Thursday, October 26, 2023

Inspector Sun, Spider Detective

In the early 1930s, Shanghai was a swinging city, but it was also wild and woolly, often to a dangerous extent. Apparently, the same was true for the bug world. Inspector Sun was supposed to battle the crime and corruption, but he is a bit of an idiot—maybe more than a bit. However, he is lucky, which often compensated for his lack of intelligence. His luck might hold when he stumbles across a case that could restore his career while vacationing in Julio Soto Gurpide’s animated feature Inspector Sun (a.k.a. Inspector Sun and the Curse of the Black Widow), which opens tomorrow in theaters.

Sun is a “nepo baby,” but even his police chief uncle has had enough of the chaos he stirs up. At least he still collars his nemesis, the Red Locust (even though it would have been easier if he had just left it to his more professional colleagues). Sent packing, Sun leaves on vacation, but he misses his flight thanks to Janey, a hero-worshipping jumping spider, who wants to be Sun’s protégé. Instead, his old friend Scarab, a rhinoceros beetle working as the director of security on a flight to San Francisco, ushers him aboard his luxurious flying boat.

That night, in the tradition of Agatha Christie, Dr. Bugsy Spindlethorp is murdered. Suspicion immediately falls on his new wife, the black widow Arabella Killtop, who also happens to be a real black widow. However, Sun is too attracted to her to believe she could be the murderer. Naturally, he tries to solve the case and clear her name, reluctantly accepting Janey’s help, since she stowed-away, risking mid-air ejection.

Inspector Sun (a product of Spain) was not produced in China, because this 1930s tale features no exploitative capitalists, crooked government officials protecting them, or Communist revolutionaries fighting to bring them their just deserts. There are no politics and no woke ideology in Inspector Sun. It is just an appealingly old-fashioned murder mystery with bugs that gets slightly too fantastical in the third act.

What works best in
Inspector Sun is the attention to vintage 1930s details, evoking the glamor of the mid-Chinese Republican era. The music definitely emulates the style of big band jazz, especially the swinging closing credits. The clothes, the Art Deco décor, and even the flying boat itself summon all kinds of elegant nostalgia.

Unfortunately, the characters themselves (including the frequently annoying Sun and especially the unceasingly annoying Janey) are just sort of meh. On the plus side, Red Locust is a suitable super-villain and Killtop is a good cartoon femme fatale.

Inspector Sun has a refreshingly sophisticated sensibility. The “lessons” it teaches exclusively focus on personal conduct and responsibility. The computer-generated animation is okay, but the period backdrops are very cool. Recommended for family viewing, Inspector Sun opens tomorrow (10/27) in New York including the AMC Empire.