Kevin Smith’s Cop Out is funny – at least some of the time. It is competently directed (don’t think so – run over the oeuvre of Andy Fickman, Michael Lembeck, or Brian Levant and then make your case) and efficiently acted. Stars Bruce Willis and Tracey Morgan make the most of the moldy old genre known as the buddy film, and TV scribes Robb and Mark Cullen do their damnedest to bring something fun and fresh to a tired high concept category. But when you’re the man who created Clerks and Clerks II, when you’ve let Zack and Miri Make a Porno and allowed Jay and Silent Bob to Strike Back, being conventional is not necessarily a compliment. Smith could probably have rewritten this everyday entertainment into something smart, sassy, and satiric. Instead, he and his cast cash their paychecks and live to make movies another day.
You can blame star Bruce Willis…probably. He fell in love with Smith after the two worked together on Live Free or Die Hard. Bringing him on to “beef up” the otherwise anemic Cop Out probably seemed like a great idea. Spread a little indie cred on the otherwise ordinary effort and perhaps, audiences won’t recognize how horribly routine it all is. Granted, for the most part, Cop Out lives up to its meager ambitions. It’s an occasionally amusing, sometimes stupid Odd Couple creation in which maverick policemen pursue a Mexican drug lord because – get this – he happens upon Willis’ character’s prized baseball card. Our hapless hero needs that piece of sports memorabilia in order to pay for his daughter’s wedding (he’s a NYPD lawman not on the take, after all).
If the character, here named Jimmy Monroe, was anything more than a smart-assed straight man to Morgan’s Chris Tucker by way of a nightclub impersonator, we might care more. After all, Willis is capable of elevating even the biggest pile of commercial piffle. But unless you dig Mr. 30 Rock‘s rants, unless you find the absolutely unhinged and over the top scenery stealing/chewing of Seann William Scott (as a parkour loving loon felon named Dave) endearing, unless the attempts by the mostly Latino bad guys to play against stereo-type work for you, you’re going to despise this movie. As a matter of fact, it is easy to say that Cop Out is perhaps the first film in a long time that ties much of its potential value to elements so screwy and unsteady that the entire project constantly teeters on the brink of catastrophic collapse.
Monroe and his partner Paul Hodges destroy a two year old narcotics investigation and get put on suspension. Meeting up with his ex-wife, their cutesy pie daughter, and the dullard stepdad (Jason Lee, one of many Friends of Smith present), pride overwhelms pragmatism. Monroe takes his card to a dealer, ends up losing it during a robbery, and winds up tracking it down to the very same coke-smuggling mobster who the police were tracking in the first place. Along the way, Hodges is suspicious of his sexy wife (The issue? Possible adultery), the guys discover a hot blood Latina hostage in the trunk of a car, and Kevin Pollack and Adam Brady mope around the edges as milquetoast officers looking to nail our duo to the Internal Affairs wall. Mix in the mandatory dick jokes, a number of nonsensical asides, and a semi-engaging car chase or two and you’ve got what passes for a late February release in Hollywood circa 2010.
Perhaps the only thing Cop Out has going for it is chemistry. While we never believe Morgan as a policeman (he’s so slipshod and non-observant that Willis frequently finds himself in harm’s way), we do sense a longstanding partnership between the pair. They play off each other well, each having a good time with the others randy rapport. Scott is also stunning, throwing off non-sequitors and adlibs so freely you feel his Id constantly careening from between his lips. The arrival of Ann de la Reguera (as a far less fiery Penelope Cruz wannabe) throws things off a bit, since she speaks only in Spanish, meaning that we either get endless subtitles or scenes where Morgan misinterprets and/or misunderstands her meaning. Back in the days of SCTV and Perini Scleroso, such a foreign language farce element might work. Today, it seems stunted and racially insensitive.
As an attempt at a mainstream movie, Smith is not horrible. Again, there are too many miserable journeyman making bank in and around the industry to completely condemn Mr. ViewAskew. Of course, he handles the personal material quite well. The conversations between Monroe and Hodges have a natural, authentic feel, and even when the comedy level is turned up to ‘really f-ing trying’, Smith manages to hold the human aspect in check. Where he shows some major weakness is in the desire to drive the narrative forward. For the most part, Cop Out lumbers along without much purpose. The prized baseball card quest loses much of its momentum once the kidnapping subplot kicks in, and even after the last act showdown with the baddies, the issue of said valuable memorabilia is treated like an afterthought. It could be that Willis believed Smith would bring something new to the standard action comedy mix. He was about three-eighth’s right.
With such high profiles stars sitting center stage, Cop Out is guaranteed some solid box office drawing power. Beyond the fan base, however, it will have a much harder time making its case. This kind of film was very popular in the mid ’80s, a juxtaposition of onscreen personalities thrust into an occasionally outrageous crime and punishment paradigm. The results were often excellent (48 Hours). Sometimes, they bypassed the bottom of the barrel before scraping the very cesspools of Hades themselves (Loose Cannons, anyone?). Cop Out is not a flop by any stretch of the late Winter/early Spring, post-Awards season sense of movie marketing. It’s just a genial, generic romp. While the actors involved might seem right for such unadventurous fare, we expect more from Smith. His failure to fulfill said promise is just part of this movie’s overall blandness.