Paul (Tracy Morgan) and Jimmy (Bruce Willis) have been together for nine years. To mark the occasion, Paul presents his partner with a cute card: “Happy anniversary, sweetie,” with the “sweetie” crossed out and “Jimmy” scrawled in. So here’s the joke: as their movie title — Cop Out — indicates, Paul and Jimmy aren’t domestic partners, they are cops. Still, the moment sets the stage for our understanding of their relationship. More significant than the too obvious bromance, Jimmy is the dominant partner, older, crustier, and ostensibly more experienced. Paul, on the other hand, is emotional, admiring, and takes orders from Jimmy.
Following this feeble set-up, Cop Out doesn’t pick up any speed. After the partners botch an undercover operation and get suspended, Jimmy is forced to hock a valuable baseball card to pay for his daughter Ava’s (Michelle Trachtenberg) $48,000 dream wedding. When the rare collector’s item is stolen before he can sell it, Jimmy and Paul set out to recover the card from a baseball-loving Mexican drug dealer who goes by Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz). Sigh.
In fairness, Cop Out doesn’t pretend to be more significant than it is. An homage to ’80s interracial buddy-cop movies, like 48 Hours or the Lethal Weapon series, it includes predictable one-liners in the boys’ exchanges (and a debate about “homage” in general), a synthesizer-heavy score by Beverly Hills Cop composer Harold Faltermeyer, and a couple of cute Die Hard send-ups. Still, it’s a snooze-fest in the action department, which means the movie is missing a major component of the genre it’s supposedly saluting.
It’s worth noting too, that this is a buddy-cop movie that leaves out the interracial tensions and asides that animated so many of its predecessors’ duos. And yet, Cop Out is hardly “post-racial.” Paul is quasi-lovable, but he’s mostly a cartoonish buffoon who, for the most part, only breaks out of his professional ineptitude by accident. Jimmy may be the straight man, but Paul is a child. That his broadly stereotypical behavior is not acknowledged, much less questioned, only underscores Jimmy’s own type — the superior white man. And just in case Paul isn’t convinced of his place, enter Dave (Seann William Scott), the stoner bandit whose sole purpose in the film seems to be ridiculing and frustrating Paul until he cries for Jimmy to save him.
If Cop Out pretends that race and racism are not “issues” for Paul and Jimmy (and that’s a big “if”), it’s not even trying to fake it when it comes to Latino types. From Poh Boy the genuflecting gangster, to the beautiful and endangered informant Gabriela (Ana de la Reguera), who uses her only English word (“Hi”) in response to every question (somehow rendering her both vacuous and exotic), these characters are so completely without substance as to be neither particularly frightening nor desirable.
In fact, Poh Boy isn’t the villain who causes Jimmy the most concern. His ex-wife is remarried to Roy (Jason Lee), a smug and rich jerk, who suggests Jimmy’s a deadbeat dad, then offers to pay for Ava’s wedding. Humiliated, Jimmy’s reason for recovering the baseball card is fueled less by his desire to be a decent father than to soothe his own ego and save face with Roy. Any other crime he runs into or even solves along the way is coincidental.
While Jimmy’s emasculation might serve to level the playing field between him and Paul (neither is an impressive man, at least temporarily), it also sets us up for a serving of man-child revenge — perhaps the most worn-out plot device of the last few years. As Jimmy and Paul decide to salvage Jimmy’s dignity, we hear the officiant at Ava’s wedding quoting Scripture: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Oh, if only.