Release Date(s)2020 (June 25, 2022)
Studio(s)BRIC TV/Factory 25 (Factory 25/Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
Inspector Ike is a film that purports to be a lost TV movie of the 1970s. Using cinematic touches reminiscent of those films, director Graham Mason presents an often deadpan spoof in which the title character methodically solves a crime.
Harry (Matt Barats), the understudy of an avant-garde theater group, kills the theater’s main star, Chip (John Early), in order to gain the spotlight he desperately seeks. To provide an alibi, he first takes his girlfriend, Jan (Grace Rex), to an eight-hour “theatrical event” called “Al’s Pizza” and feeds her warm milk, which induces her to fall asleep. Then he ducks out and kills Chip, making it look like a suicide. But Inspector Ike (Ikechukwu Ufomadu), who refers to himself as New York City’s greatest detective, is determined to figure out whether everything is as it seems.
Ike’s confidence in himself and his methods suggests a trustworthy, reassuring professional in the otherwise bizarre world crafted by director Mason. Jan confides in Inspector Ike when she concludes that Harry’s alibi doesn’t sound kosher. Ike indulges his low-key sense of humor as he cleverly plays a game of cat-and-mouse with Harry and always seems a step ahead.
Ufomadu does his best with the shaky material but fails to give his role the punch it needs. With a consistently mild-mannered style that often renders him nearly invisible, he almost seems a featured player rather than the lead.
The spoofing is not as broad as in Airplane! or chock full of slapstick and wordplay as The Naked Gun films, but it does have its own form of weirdness. It’s clear that no one speaks the way the characters in the movie do, yet we get on board anyway as Mason takes us on his strangely fascinating journey. The film resembles an episode of Columbo as seen through the eyes of John Waters on LSD.
Inspector Ike was filmed on a modest budget, as its limited locations and mostly interior shots reveal. The actors deliver in accordance with the style of the film. Barats is generally keyed up and yelling. Ufomadu is soft-spoken, always calm and seeming totally in control. His character projects a self-confidence bordering on arrogance in the face of another crime he has no doubt he will solve. Effective, stylized performances are turned in by Aparna Mancheria as Harry’s severe director and Jessica Damouni as Chip’s wife. A couple of cops, who appear to be more than colleagues, are played by Ana Fabrega and Anthony Oberdeck with an easy-going, goofy approach.
Unfortunately, Mason’s humor is so low-key, it doesn’t come across. Instead, the film looks like it was shot from an early draft. It could have used a could deal of polish. There are opportunities missed, and different directorial choices could have elicited more gags.
The lack of big names is also a drawback. Airplane! creates a big laugh when Ethel Merman materializes in a brief cameo as shell-shocked Lt. Hurwitz semi-consciously warbling Everything’s Coming Up Roses. In The Naked Gun films, Leslie Nielsen’s befuddled, pun-prone Frank Drebin became a reliable gag. And the inspired casting of Steve Martin and Michael Caine in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels elevated that film considerably.
Co-writers Mason and Ufomadu establish the mystery movie genre by including a “pre-show” commercial reminding viewers to stay tuned for the program and have their recipe cards ready, since every show contains a recipe. This episode, called Audition for Death, will contain a recipe for chili. As in Love Boat openings, the cast is shown in brief, framed close-ups accompanied by light music.
Inspector Ike was captured digitally by director of photography Ian McAlpin with vintage lenses and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The overall quality of the Blu-ray is very good. A slightly yellowish cast may have been intentional to suggest the TV movie quality of the 70s. Complexions are natural and details well delineated. For dramatic effect, certain moments are bathed in colored light. The predominance of interiors reflects both the low budget and the speed with which TV movies were made. The cooking segment features close-ups of ingredients, just like a standard cooking show.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 Dolby Digital. English subtitles are an option. Dialogue is clear throughout in this dialogue-heavy film. Actors deliver their lines with varying degrees of emotion, often underplaying to heighten the silliness. Simon Hanes’ score is right on the money, beautifully capturing the kind of music used in TV movies—suspenseful, somewhat ominous, jazz-infused themes particularly effective in pepping up sluggish scenes.
Bonus materials include:
- Audio Commentary with Graham Mason
- The Photos of Ana (6:56)
- Words with Ike: Season One (11:21)
- Trailer (1:00)
Audio Commentary – Writer/Director Graham Mason takes us through the process of creating Inspector Ike. Graham describes the opening, which parodies a 70s cop show opening, complete with images of Ike solving crimes in his trademark manner—presenting the guilty party with a set of handcuffs and a champagne toast. Graham discusses how specific scenes were filmed, including a day-for-night interior scene filmed digitally with vintage lenses and adjusted in post-production to make it look as if it had been shot on 16 mm, to give it the “70s TV look.” Some scenes had to be improvised because of limitations such as finances or time, or for aesthetic reasons. As he and Ike were writing, Graham thought Ike’s ability to convey deadpan silliness would be perfect for the detective. The project was done first as a live whodunit show, where Ike honed his performance. Thinking about adapting the story into a film, Ike suggested using the TV show Columbo as a guide. Other influences were Blake Edwards (the Pink Panther films) and Mel Brooks.
The Photos of Ana – In this short film, Ike (Ike Ufomadu) and Ana (Ana Fabrega) look through a series of black-and-white photos taken by Ana. She explains what she hoped to achieve in each, and Ike offers his offbeat opinions in a dry, stone-faced manner.
Words with Ike – This is a baker’s dozen of very brief bits in which Ike focuses on a particular word, offering a definition and often incorporating some droll humor. The words discussed include “fountainhead,” “limn,” “chum,” “nerd,” “diarrhea,” “sorry” and, for the Christmas special, “sugarplum.”
Booklet – The enclosed 20-page booklet contains the article Thoughts on Inspector Ike by Graham Mason, Inspector Ike episode guide with synopses, a word search puzzle, and a full listing of cast and crew. Also included is a recipe card.
Inspector Ike doesn’t contain the earmarks of a loving homage, though it’s not at all mean spirited. It appears the format was chosen to enable a theatrical style of acting and a considerable amount of peculiarity. The pace is unhurried, allowing room for each of the actors to have good moments. Lacking the nostalgic attraction of Get Smart or the Agatha Christie essence of Knives Out, Inspector Ike is an oddball outlier of detective thriller spoofs.
- Dennis Seuling