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Detective Story

'Watching the Detectives' is sharp yet low-key, dialogue-driven entertainment

Pictured: Cillian Murphy and Lucy Liu.

The lighthearted comedy “Watching the Detectives,” recently run in the Tribeca Film Festival, is implausible but entertaining, and amusing enough if you just go with it.

The film features Cillian Murphy as Neil, a straitlaced owner of his own independent video store, and Lucy Liu as Violet, the proverbial free spirit who shakes up Neil’s methodical and orderly life. It springs from the mind of writer/director Paul Soter, a member of the Broken Lizard comedy group that made broader comedies “Club Dread,” “Super Troopers” and “Beerfest,” but his project has a completely different tone than those movies.

“Watching the Detectives” indulges some parody of film noir pointedly in its beginning, even making reference to Steve Martin’s classic spoof “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” in its dialogue. Liu veers between being a femme fatale and a free spirit, actually, but the stakes of this movie are never quite as dire as an actual film noir.

Actually, the movie is saved from becoming just another chick flick romance by its supporting cast, notably Michael Panes and Jason Sudeikis, as Murphy’s friends/employees. A perfect example happens when Liu returns to the store early in the movie to return her rental only halfway watched, and Panes guesses by the position of the videotape where in the movie she stopped -- and why.

It’s an inventive little set piece, and it carries through to some of the stunts Liu pulls to mess with Murphy’s world -- like providing a deluxe picnic lunch for them and another couple that turns out to be stolen from another couple that actually brought it to the park. Plus you never know what Liu will pull out of her purse that’s ideal for a given situation -- a giant calculator, binoculars, etc.

All in all, when this does hit theaters in general release (the festival ends today), it definitely delivers enough sharp, snappy dialogue and scenes fleshing out its story to make it an enjoyable night out.




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