Quentin Dupieux’s farce about a pair of slackers stuck taking care of a giant fly has some inspired moments, and not much else.
In the decade since his cult hit Rubber, French provocauteur Quentin Dupieux has been churning out small, absurd movies at a steady clip. Mandibles – his third U.S. release since the start of the pandemic – is yet another wonky tale of le ridicule, clocking in at a mere 77 minutes. Beach bum Manu (Gregoire Luig) is hired by a rich benefactor to transport a mysterious suitcase; specifically told he must do so in a car, he stumbles on an unlocked, dusty yellow Mercedes, and picks up his buddy Jean-Gab (David Marsais). Everything’s going smoothly until the pair notice an odd rumbling emanating from the trunk of their stolen automobile. Turns out, they’ve been riding around with an enormous, disgusting fly.
Measuring about the size of a child’s car seat, the Kafka-esque creature is completely inexplicable – this is a Quentin Dupieux movie, after all. Manu and Jean-Gab are closer to Harold and Kumar than a Jason Statham-style “Transporter,” so needless to say, the giant bug quickly disrupts their mission (plus, they haven’t even picked up their confidential cargo yet). Jean-Gab sees an equally oversized opportunity in the insect – what if they could train the bug and mold it into their personal attack drone?
Maybe “disgusting” is the wrong word for the fly: with its large round compound eyes and slightly tilted head, it can come off quite cute! This being an absurdist farce, hijinks quickly ensue, though the insect and its titular mandibles are actually somewhat removed from the slew of felonies and mistaken identities that follow. Instead, we spend a lot of time just hanging out with Manu and Jean-Gab, and the easy chemistry between their actors keeps things consistently entertaining. As likable slackers go, they’re quite likable; as weird European comedies go, the movie always remains a notch or two lighter than something you’d see from Yorgos Lanthimos.
In fact, despite being named after a mouth, Mandibles lacks much of a bite. The fun of a Dupieux movie is usually built around whatever inexplicable toy he’s playing with – as he called it in Rubber, “[the] important element of no reason.” But by now, the schtick is getting a little old. Didn’t Gregoire Luig star in another equally weightless satire from Dupieux just a few months ago? What exactly are we supposed to remember from Mandibles, outside of its CGI creature and the main characters’ secret handshake?
In other words, Dupieux’s commitment to being silly is admirable, but the resistance to making his silly meaningful is exhausting. In Deerskin, his most successful outing to date, the protagonist’s murderous obsession with an expensive jacket seemingly functioned as a peek at the psychological toll of a mid-life crisis or male insecurity. It felt as if that film was daring you to read into what it offered – take it at face value or decide it’s deep, the choice is yours. Mandibles, meanwhile, is a funny buddy comedy with a big bug. Squint as hard as you like, but you won’t see much else.
Mandibles opens in theaters July 23rd.