Alan Spencer became a cult suc­cess dur­ing the ‘80s with his vig­i­lante cop par­o­dy show Sledge Hammer, a send-up of action movie and cop show tropes that is fond­ly remem­bered by many. He returned to the same comedic killing field in 2012 with Bullet In The Face, a six-episode series seem­ing­ly designed to apply the same satir­i­cal mind­set to the action/cop tropes that have accu­mu­lat­ed since the mid-80s.  The results are suit­ably fre­net­ic and over-the-top… but they’re too errat­ic in tone and focus to hit their intend­ed satir­i­cal marks.

Bullet In The Face offers up an anti­hero in Gunter Vogler (Max E. Williams), the Eurotrash enforcer of ago­ra­pho­bic crimelord Tannhauser (Eddie Izzard).  He is hav­ing affair with fel­low Tannhauser-employed crim­i­nal Martine (Kate Kelton) — and that leads to Tannhauser order­ing Martine to shoot him in the face dur­ing a rob­bery.

BulletITF-dvdGunter sur­vives the assas­si­na­tion attempt but awak­ens with the face of a hero­ic cop he shot dur­ing the rob­bery: police Commissioner Braden (Jessica Steen) has him given secret face-trans­plant surgery so he can be her tool to bring down both Tannhauser and rival crime lord Racken (Eric Roberts).  Gunter is sent out into the city with new part­ner Hagerman (Neil Napier), the ex-part­ner of the cop he killed, to bring down the under­world… but it should be no sur­prise that Gunter has a mind of his own about how that should work.

That’s a fun setup for a series but Bullet In The Face nev­er quite fig­ures out how to deliv­er on its poten­tial.  For starters, the series turns out to be less about Gunter direct­ly sab­o­tag­ing the crimelords and more about him romp­ing around the city until Spencer decides to tie all the plot threads up: indeed, the mid­dle 4 episodes of this series deal pri­mar­i­ly with “crime of the week” plot­li­nes. They all have some tie to the crime lords but they do lit­tle advance the main sto­ry­line.  What should have been the main plot becomes a sub­plot.

As a result of the “crime of the week” plot­ting approach, Bullet In The Face also nev­er has time to fol­low through on a ton of inter­est­ing char­ac­ter-dri­ven plot threads that it sets up: the most notable missed oppor­tu­ni­ties are the unsub­tle hints that Hagerman had a gay love affair with the man whose face Gunter now has and the fact that Martine man­ages to be a moll (using dis­guis­es) for both of the city’s crimelords.

However, the biggest prob­lem with Bullet In The Face is that it can’t make up its mind what kind of satire it’s going for.  Each episode switch­es up its style mul­ti­ple times from moment to moment, shift­ing back and forth between Mel Brooks-style gen­re satire and a John Waters-inspired trans­gres­sive­ness.  The lat­ter style is the more inter­est­ing of the two — one daz­zling moment has Gunter encour­ag­ing a kid who has com­mit­ted mur­der to con­tin­ue being a killer because the world is full of lies — but the show almost always pulls its punch­es on that front, going back to a broad goofi­ness full of groan-induc­ing word­play and limp slap­stick gags.

In short, Bullet In The Face applies a lot of ener­gy to its satir­i­cal tasks but is undone by the fact that it nev­er real­ly com­mits to a sin­gle plan of attack and instead tries sev­er­al at once.  The result is stri­dent, with every­one try­ing real­ly hard to con­vince you how out­ra­geous the show is, and nev­er as fun­ny as it should have been.

DVD Notes: this series recent­ly got a U.S. DVD release cour­tesy of Shout! Factory.  All six of the half-hour episodes fit neat­ly onto one disc and are pre­sent­ed in an anamor­phic trans­fer that shows off its styl­ish cin­e­matog­ra­phy. Both 2.0 and 5.1 stereo mix­es are pro­vid­ed. The 5.1 mix was lis­tened to for this review and it’s a pret­ty spa­cious mix that spreads the music and sound effects around.

The one extra is a series of com­men­tary tracks for each episode by creator/writer Alan  Spencer.  He reveals how the show was born from a rewrite of a failed series, dis­cuss­es his actors and their tech­niques with great fond­ness and con­trasts the tele­vi­sion net­work stan­dards of the 80s (when he was mak­ing Sledge Hammer) with those of today. The most inter­est­ing bits arrive when he reveals the show wasn’t designed to be a par­o­dy and dis­cuss­es how social media has changed how quick­ly peo­ple process enter­tain­ment.  All the tracks are well-paced and filled with equal amounts of info & schtick.