Color, 2020, 83 mins. 29 secs.
Directed by Graham Mason
Starring Ikechukwu Ufomadu, Matt Barats, Ana Fabrega, Grace Rex, John Early, Aparna Nancherla, Anthony Oberbeck
Factory 25 (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD)
We've had a lot of mystery spoofs over the decades ranging from Murder by Death to The Naked Gun, but there's nothing else out there quite like Inspector Ike. Bringing a quirky improv theater-style sensibility to the world of made-for-TV '70s crime yarns, it mostly veers away from its sources to cast a wider comic net including some droll character comedy and even a William Castle-worthy ridiculous gimmick with each new case involving a special recipe demonstration by our sleuth.
Ostensibly a salute to the popular feature-length Columbo mysteries that were hugely popular in the '70s and popped up on and off much later, this one is a mock Saturday night mystery film (Audition for Death) set in the quirky world of New York City's avant-garde theater community. The arrogant, manipulative Harry (Barats) takes his girlfriend, Jan (Rex), to an epic-length Off-Broadway production involving a mundane work shift at a pizza shop, just the sleep-inducing cover he needs to slip out and stage the elaborate murder of his acting rival, Chip (Early), complete with a staged video reading that plays like a suicide note. Now with a juicy lead role in his pocket, Harry attracts the inscrutable detecting eye of Inspector Ike (Ufomadu) along with his sidekicks, Deputies Hawthorne (Fabrega) and Dinardo (Oberbeck), who are both in deep denial about their involvement with each other. As Harry's big opening night approaches, Ike and company weed through potential clues and take time out for a nice chili dinner before a final confrontation.
Complete with one of the funniest main title sequences in recent memory and a deadpan main character who somehow works perfectly, Inspector Ike is a breezy little surprise that moves very quickly and never wears out its welcome. Even with the 1.33:1 framing, the digital lensing doesn't really capture the era all that much (nor does it really go nuts with the period detail in general) but fortunately the script and off-kilter performances easily overcome that through sheer force of commitment.
After a heavy round of festival play, Inspector Ike made its debut on region-free Blu-ray from Brooklyn-based company Factory 25 with a limited slipcase edition. As you'd expect for a recent film, it looks great without any significant issues to report; the lossy Dolby Digital English 2.0 track is fine for what it is, given the film is all dialogue and fairly simple music. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included. A new audio commentary by director Graham Mason is fairly sparse with long gaps of silence, along with mostly chatting about what we're seeing on the screen; however, he does pepper in some fun info about the various bit players, the casting, and the influence of others like the Zucker brothers. Also included are the trailer, 13 mini-episodes of the very funny "Words with Ike" (11m21s) in which a very different iteration of Ufomadu's character demonstrates the very dubious value of several words, and "The Photos of Ana" (6m56s), a quirky little short film by Mason with Ufomadu and Fabrega flipping through a series of increasingly odd photographs. The package also comes with an insert booklet featuring an Inspector Ike episode guide (we could use a few more real ones!), a Mason essay, a word search by Ufomadu, and of course, a real recipe card so you make your viewing experience truly interactive.
Reviewed on June 22, 2022.