Spider and Fly: Private Eye

By Oliver William Smith | Comedy
A man is killed in a hit-and-run. And a detective arrives to solve it.

A man has been killed in a hit-and-run accident, and Detective I.B. Pillock has arrived on the scene to solve the crime. There’s an actress in a red dress in a disgruntled marriage, her equally morose husband nearby and a dead middle-aged man and model train enthusiast named Rupert, killed under suspicious circumstances.

The detective interviews all the key players — and a few people who seem random and incidental at the scene. But he manages to unearth some surprising conclusions — all derived from his uniquely lateral brand of deduction.

Written and directed by Oliver William Smith, this crime-scene caper uses its cascade of witty, ironic dialogue and quick pace to affectionately skewers the cliches of our favorite police procedurals. With a dry sense of humor and an eye for quirky detail, it never takes itself too seriously, harkening back to the big studio comedies of the 1980s like The Naked Gun and Airplane and making for an enjoyable short romp.

The film’s foundation rests on stylish, playful writing, focused on dialogue and stuffed with quips, puns and non-sequiturs. Its approach to language is surprisingly dense and even absurdist, and though the story is silly, its wordplay is intelligent and sharp, attuned to how language can be stretched, twisted and remolded to reveal the ironies of its underpinnings.

Along with the broad, bright cinematography and sometimes cheeky camerawork and a jazz-like score punctuating particularly ridiculous moments, the film takes the cliches of crime and mystery narratives and deconstructs them, revealing their often humdrum or nonsensical usage and origins. Repeated viewings yield new allusions and dimensions to seemingly throwaway lines — a remarkable feat for a short-form comedy.

The main character of Detective Pillock is the conduit of this dextrous use of language, which he uses to follow his own tangled, slippery logic to deduct what happens in the scene. He speaks with rapid-fire confidence, but his chain of logic is hilariously skewed, often misinterpreting key facts and making connections that have no business being connected. He’s played by Smith with a sharp blend of self-seriousness and irony, and he’s committed to his viewpoint, rushing from one “point” to the next. That drive makes sure he follows his rather tangled thread of deduction to its end — where he happens upon the instigator of the crime with surprising societal insight.

“Spider and Fly: Private Eye” will likely frustrate those who like their crime stories grittily realistic and the plausibility police who like their logic shaken, not stirred. It epitomizes an approach where serious things are treated with silliness and silliness is taken very seriously. But fans of the Coen Brothers, Monty Python, or even David O. Russell who like their comedy with a surprising layer of intellectual gravitas and a lot of deadpan zings will find much to like here.

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