"I can't shake the feeling that you're just blowing through town with a carnival." Dialogue from Watching the Detectives, a romantic comedy with shadings of L.A. noir that played at Tribeca this year. If the film were made sixty years ago, the male lead would first be seen in a downmarket private investigator's store front, leaning back in a chair with his feet up on a desk, as the dangeous female comes waltzing into his life. Today, it's a downmarket indie video store, where Neil (Cillian Murphy) lounges with his fellow employees, savoring their status as increasingly rare birds in a neighborhood being invaded by behemoth video store giants. Into the store one day waltzes Violet (Lucy Liu) a first-time customer who continually asks Neil questions about this and that and when he answers, points out that she's talking not to him, but to whoever is on the other end of her invisible Bluetooth handless. She eventually sidles up to the counter and announces that she has no membership and no driver's license, but she wants to check out anyway.
What follows is a gentle spoof on femme fatales and the men they inevitably drag along by the ear. The plot can't handle any seriously evil or crooked intentions on the part of Violet, so instead she's portrayed as having a screw loose -- a woman who enjoys walking her men into elaborate practical jokes and then doubling over with laughter every time they fall for it. She begins by showing up at the restaurant they choose for their first date falling-down drunk. When Neil refuses her aggressive, drunken come-ons, she reveals the put on and tosses it off as a half-joke, half-test to see if he would take advantage of her. In the real world, the man would run for the hills of course, but it somehow works here. For his part, Neil is a classic noir stooge who understands intellectually that he's being taken for a ride by this woman but can't help himself. "I've lived in Tasmania, Cape Town ..." Violet tells him. "That sounds incredibly ..." "Exciting?" "I was gonna say made up."