Cop Out (2010) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive language including sexual references, violence and brief sexuality
Running time: 110min.
Cast: Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Guillermo Diaz, Seann William Scott, Rashida Jones, Kevin Pollak, Adam Brody, Jason Lee, Francie Swift, Michelle Trachtenberg, Cory Fernandez, Sean Cullen, Susie Essman, Fred Armisen
Director: Kevin Smith
Screenplay: Robb Cullen, Mark Cullen
Looking back over my reviews of Kevin Smith (Zack and Miri, Clerks II) films in the past, one common theme runs throughout: Kevin Smith is a much better writer than he is a director. One need only look at his first film, Clerks, to see a film highly regarded among a generation of film fans that includes such terrible direction and stiff acting. They love his characterizations and the things those characters say. It is for his funny ideas and skillful inclusion of many pop culture arguments within his films that he has built up a formidable fan base; It is for his oft-amateurish directing that his films aren't polished enough to reach much farther beyond this base.
The premise of Cop Out is that a salt-n-pepper team of wisecracking cops, Jimmy Monroe (Willis, Planet Terror) and Paul Hodges (Morgan, Superhero Movie) end up butting head with their superior once too often, losing their guns and badges. Well, only the ones they have on at the time, as they have plenty of spares with which they can continue to pose as cops and make bad guys pay. Jimmy's life is a shambles off the beat, with an emasculating ex-wife (Swift, "Gossip Girl") who has remarried a man (Lee, Underdog) far more successful than Jimmy, and what's more, his daughter (Trachtenberg, Ice Princess) is on the verge of getting married and Jimmy can't find a way to pay the bill, leaving her new stepfather an entry to further play hero and replace Jimmy in her heart. But Jimmy has one trick up his sleeve -- a valuable baseball card he has kept in pristine condition all these years should pay for it all - if only it didn't get stolen, ultimately fenced for drugs and in the hands of a ruthless neighborhood drug lord named Poh Boy (Diaz, The Terminal). In exchange for the card, Jimmy and Paul must run an errand to recover a stolen car for Poh Boy, but find there's more in the car of value than what they originally thought.
Cop Out represents Smith's first film as a director that he did not write, as well as the first without his longtime production crony Scott Mosier (and his first experience working directly on a major studio production), and it is a mistake on many levels. Not that you won't find Smith-isms within the film. Small monologues on bowel movements and sexual innuendo, especially as ad-libbed by his actors, are trademark crutches for Smith to inject humor during scenes that aren't working from a comedic standpoint. But even these crutches aren't funny anymore, as tired as everything else in this homage to 80s cop films that is neither consistent enough to work as a satire, nor focused enough to work as a rehash. It's a "buddy cop" film with two lead actors working on entirely different planes, with Tracy Morgan trying everything he can to be funny all of the time, while the more subtle Bruce Willis takes the other extreme by not trying at all.
The screenplay by Robb and Mark Cullen (Manchild, New Car Smell) puts together a mish-mash of 1980s cop flick clichés without generating much humor out of them other than the knowing references. Hot-head police captains, torturous and talky bad guys, drug busts, loose cannon cops, some domestic drama, and car chases represent the bases you'd have to touch in order to make a decent rehash, but outside of a couple of scenes of Paul regurgitating famous film lines from cop flicks of the 80s (which isn't exactly true, as he mysteriously quotes from movies of other genres and eras as well), there isn't much to Cop Out one could call a loving spoof.
It's not even a good representation of 1980s films, by the way, with lackluster action sequences and agonizingly grating repartee. You're not supposed to be on the side of the police captain reprimanding his inept officers. You're not supposed to think the new husband of the cop's ex-wife is worlds better as a father, husband and good all around guy. You're not supposed to hope the irate cop's girlfriend actually is cheating with the next door neighbor in order to find someone worthy of her attention. The mix is a disaster. And unlike the films it pays homage to, it's instantly forgettable.
Tracy Morgan might even be accused, when left to his own devices, of being too weird for most people to actually "get" as a comedian, only really taking off after TV's "30 Rock", which is known for its excellent writing, utilizing him in scenarios that allow the cast to play off of his zaniness. If you're not in tune with his style, he comes off as abrasive, perpetually shouting (Morgan must think that volume equates to higher humor value), and distancing due to riffing with references that only make sense to him. If he isn't playing a knowingly extraverted weirdo, it's not going to work, as Tracy Morgan's character could never be believable enough as a cop, a boyfriend, a partner, or even just a normal guy -- all things he is supposed to represent in Cop Out.
Kevin Smith had once been on board for a soon-after cancelled remake of a classic 1980s comedy, Fletch, which, after seeing the type of effort he's turned in with this 1980s cop comedy homage (Smith does secure the once-retired services of Fletch's composer Harold Faltermeyer), may have been a blessing for that film's fans. Cop Out is Kevin Smith's worst movie, and the least "Kevin Smith" of his films, which means that only the most completist of his fans might even bother including this one in their collections. What happens when you remove Smith's acute observations, funny characterizations, and endearingly geeky attitude towards pop culture in any one of his films? You get a sloppy, laugh-less movie, which is exactly what you'll get from Cop Out.
©2010 Vince Leo