'Bullet in the Face': Wickedly dark, funny cop-show satire

In "Bullet in the Face," Alan Spencer's series developed for IFC: Max Williams as archvillain Gunter Vogler, Jessica Steen as Brute City police commissioner Eva Braden.
In "Bullet in the Face," Alan Spencer's series developed for IFC: Max Williams as archvillain Gunter Vogler, Jessica Steen as Brute City police commissioner Eva Braden. (BERTRAND CALMEAU)
Posted: January 18, 2014

With a title like Bullet in the Face, you know Alan Spencer's latest TV comedy means business.

Lauded by fans for more than three decades as the creator of ABC's mid-1980s police satire Sledge Hammer!, Spencer returns to the genre with Bullet, which he developed last year for IFC.

A critical and ratings hit, the wickedly dark and hilarious series ran for six half-hour episodes and is now available on DVD.

Imbued with a unique postmodern noir look, the series is set in Brute City, a "melting pot of crime" ruled by vicious kingpins such as Racken (Eric Roberts) and Johann Tannhäuser (Eddie Izzard) and their minions.

The focus of the story is on Johann's right-hand man, Gunter Vogler (Max Williams), and his left-hand woman, Martine Mahler (Kate Kelton), both grade-A sociopaths who love to kill - and to make love after they've killed.

Gunter is a hard, hard man with no conscience - but with a hilarious German accent that's a little off. Casting him proved to be difficult.

"I knew it would be a challenge to cast," Spencer said in a phone chat. "Because when you write something this extreme, you need someone to realize it."

Leading men didn't exactly line up for the part.

"A lot of people were terrified by the character," Spencer said. "They didn't know how to play him."

Canadian American thesp Max Williams fit the bill. "He knew you just had to embrace the role for what it is," Spencer said.

Gunter undergoes a twisted journey when he's involved in a shootout after a botched jewelry-store heist. He kills the city's most celebrated cop, but ends up with . . . a bullet in the face. When he wakes up, he's in chains and wearing the cop's face.

The comely police commissioner (Jessica Steen) blackmails Gunter into adopting the cop's identity and going up against his former boss. Neil Napier gives an inspired performance as the murdered cop's sensitive, loving partner, who now must team up with a man who not only killed his BFF, but who now wears his face. (Oh, the exquisite agony!)

If you think you can't laugh for three hours straight, try popping this disc into your player. Bullet in the Face: The Complete Series is due Tuesday from Shout! Factory. ( www.shoutfactory.com; $19.97; not rated)

Other DVDs of note

Vera: Set 3. Sheer heaven for fans of police procedurals, this adaptation of author Ann Cleeves' novel stars preeminent British thesp Brenda Blethyn ( Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) as Vera Stanhope, a detective in northeast England who takes a respite from her messy life by plunging headfirst into murder cases. This set, due Jan. 28, contains four feature-length mysteries. ( www.acornmedia.com; $59.99; not rated)

Nostalghia. Russian film master Andrei Tarkovsky ( Andrei Rublev, Solaris) explores music in this beautifully wrought story from 1983 about a Russian writer (Oleg Yankovsky) who travels to Italy to research the tragic life of an 18th-century Russian composer. Loosely based on Maksym Berezovsky, the musical genius lived abroad but committed suicide upon returning home. ( www.kinolorber.com; $29.95 DVD; $34.95 Blu-ray; not rated)

El Señor de los Cielos (The Lord of the Skies): Volumen 1 and Volumen 2. American Spanish-language network Telemundo Studios produced this fun, lavish, action-packed telenovela set in Mexico that fictionalizes the life of drug-trafficker Amado Carrillo Fuentes, who built an empire using a fleet of planes to fly drugs into America. The 74-episode epic, which also features several torrid love stories, is divided into two volumes. ( www.universalstudiosentertainment.com; $29.98 each volume; not rated)

Top of the Lake. A true television masterpiece shown on the Sundance Channel, filmmaker Jane Campion's disturbing six-episode mini-series is set in a breathtaking rural corner of Australia that seems untouched by modernity. Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss stars as a police detective who is sucked into a small community's violent underworld as she searches for a missing child. Holly Hunter, Peter Mullan, and David Wenham costar. ( http://shop.bbc.com; $34.98; not rated)

Listening Is an Act of Love: Storycorps Special. Storycorps, the remarkable national project that has people of all walks of life tell their story in conversation with a loved one, celebrates its 10th anniversary with this one-hour animated special. The disc uses animation to tell 10 stories. ( www.shoppbs.org; $24.99; not rated)


tirdad@phillynews.com

215-854-2736

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