In what seems like a lost TV movie from the 1970s, the understudy of an avant-garde theater group murders its star actor in cold blood so that he can finally have the spotlight for himself. He thinks he’s gotten away with it until Inspector Ike, New York City’s greatest police detective who, according to legend, can “solve crimes without any clues or evidence,” comes knocking at the door asking questions and poking holes in the understudy’s story. Since the exact details of the crime are revealed in the first act, Inspector Ike’s charm doesn’t come from trying to figure out whodunit, but from watching Inspector Ike unfold the case before him with signature deadpan—all while the killer’s inner psyche unravels as he tries to outrun his guilt.
From the leads to the smaller cameos, the Inspector Ike cast is a real who’s who of the current independent Brooklyn comedy scene: Search Party’s John Early steals the show with his limited screen time as Chip Conrad, the theater star whose life is cut short by his understudy Harry Newcombe, played by a gleefully over-the-top Matt Barats, himself a longtime member of the Holy Fuck Comedy Hour. Clad in nearly identical turtlenecks and blazers, the two play off each other’s cues with expert timing and dry delivery. Early winks directly at the camera. These are performers that know precisely what the rules are and how to break them.
Where most detective parodies might take their leads for a bumbling fool, Inspector Ike himself is skillfully played straight-faced by Ikechukwu Ufomadu in a refreshing spin on an old comedy trope. Ike’s confidence in himself and in his work projects the presence of a trustworthy, comforting guiding hand in the absurd world that director Graham Mason has carefully crafted. It’s no wonder that the other characters in the film trust him so readily, such as the killer’s girlfriend Jan (Grace Rex), who decides to confide in Inspector Ike when she realizes that Harry’s alibi, which she’d previously supported, doesn’t actually hold much water (he brought her to an eight-hour experimental play about the average American work day, where she promptly fell asleep). This isn’t to say that Ike is without his own sense of humor. On the contrary, he has a lot of fun toying with Harry in their cat-and-mouse game, always one step ahead.
Simultaneously deadpan and warmly funny, Inspector Ike borrows ingredients from multiple genres to create something weird and totally new in a way that honors the feelings of its characters, yet never takes itself too seriously. For example, the narrative flow of the film is interrupted so that Inspector Ike can relay a chili recipe to us. We’re encouraged to write it all down on a recipe card. With a pinch of satirical, self-deprecating humor here and a dash of giallo-esque deep red flashbacks there—all structured as a Columbo-style detective serial—you get a dish so hearty that you’ll find yourself clamoring for another bowl. In fact, after the credits rolled, I wished I lived in a time and place where I could tune into Inspector Ike’s adventures every week.
Inspector Ike may be a micro-budget production, but the filmmakers made the most of their means, their lack of a large budget rarely a distraction from the on-screen hilarity. The idea that a grown man would murder another grown man over the lead role in an avant-garde, gender-swapped version of Annie (called Mannie) is so funny that I didn’t mind the lack of expensive set dressing. The artistic intention behind Inspector Ike is clear and executed with precision and affection, which counts for far more than a lot of money being thoughtlessly thrown at a passionless project.
Director: Graham Mason
Writer: Graham Mason, Ikechukwu Ufomadu
Starring: Ikechukwu Ufomadu, Matt Barats, Ana Fabrega, John Early, Aparna Nancherla, Grace Rex
Release Date: February 18, 2022
Brooklyn-based film writer Katarina Docalovich was raised in an independent video store and never really left. Her passions include sipping lime seltzer, trying on perfume and spending hours theorizing about Survivor. You can find her scattered thoughts as well as her writing on Twitter.