- Rated R
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All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Bob Westal
s bad buddy cop comedies go, "Cop Out" is perhaps one of the better ones. Taken as a piece of storytelling, it's guilty of the capital cinema crime of trashing itself: repeatedly disrespecting its own reality. On the other hand, taken as a way to kill some time watching fairly skilled comic actors like Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan and Seann William Scott be funny in a loose and genial way, it's reasonably enjoyable. That, however, does not excuse its numerous sins.
Directed by Kevin Smith but written by the TV scriptwriting brother act of Mark and Robb Cullen, "Cop Out" seeks to convince us that none-too-competent tough guy detective Jimmy Monroe (Willis) and zany neurotic Paul Hodges (Morgan) have been somehow functioning as partners in the NYPD for nine years. After a bit of excess zaniness by Hodges while dressed as a giant cell phone leads to the brazen murder of a hapless informant (Juan Carlos Hernández), neither Monroe nor Hodges is particularly concerned about their clear responsibility for the death. The missing paychecks from their resulting suspension, however, are a big problem.
Monroe's beloved daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg) is about to have a lavish wedding, and allowing her noxious stepdad (Jason Lee) to fork over the $48,000 for the festivities is unthinkable. This leads to a plot involving a rare stolen baseball card inherited from Monroe's father, which brings the cops in touch with Seann William Scott's drug-addled, parkour-practicing thief and a baseball loving, kill-happy Mexican-American gang leader (Guillermo Diaz) who just happens to also be involved in the murder that opens the film. Meanwhile, the insanely vulnerable Hodges is obsessing over whether his wife (Rashida Jones) is cheating on him with a neighbor and is at the same time distracted by a beautiful Spanish-speaking hostage (Ana de la Reguera, the chastely sexy nun of "Nacho Libre").
If the plot sounds like a mess, let's just say that you have no idea. Kevin Smith is not a director known for his control of tone or much of anything else other than making his fans laugh, and the film's blend of broad comedy and deadly and sometimes sadistic violence is itself deadly. Certain moments just hang cruelly in the air and I could hear the audience actually suck in its breath as they wondered whether or not they were supposed to find certain things funny or ugly.
The opening minutes are slightly less brutal, but none too promising either as Morgan uses his over-the-top delivery of an endless series of movie quotes to intimidate a suspect. It's mildly amusing but seems to promise a buddy cop movie heavy in references to other buddy cop movies. Fortunately, since "Hot Fuzz" mined that terrain far better than "Cop Out" ever could, the plot allows for a series of increasingly amusing set pieces with the team of Willis and Morgan, essentially playing versions of their best known television and film personas, interacting with a series of other skilled comic actors.
Smith's experience working with an array of comic actors is a strong suit here as both familiar faces, like comedian Kevin Pollak in tandem with a very funny Adam Brody of "The OC," Jason Lee, and less well known performers like Ana de la Reguera – a star in Mexico but still mostly an unknown to Anglos north of the border – make the most of what they're given. In particular, young Marcus Morton nicely steals his scene as a foulmouthed 11-year-old car thief, “SNL”'s Fred Armisen pops up as a ridiculously stereotypical lawyer, and Susie Essman of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" stars in a by-the-numbers but still amusing bit as a gun-toting suburban mom. In the largest of the supporting roles, Seann William Scott is the film's most pleasant surprise. He's an actor I've previously never cared for, but here he catches fire playing a very strange free spirit. The treatment his character gets from the script, however, is shameful.
Still, credit is due to our stars. It's actually a pleasure to see Bruce Willis exercise his too-little used flare for being a comic leading man a la David Addison as he deals with the endless tsuris inflicted on him by a way too wacky partner and a world full of crazies. Tracy Morgan is an actor I once found only rarely funny, but he's perfected his neurotically childlike sad sack act on "30 Rock" and that's pretty much what's on display in "Cop Out" as well.
Kevin Smith's fans – and I'm mostly Smith-positive myself – I think will find themselves reasonably satisfied despite all the huge flaws. Even if he didn't actually write the dialogue, there's plenty of fairly clever Smith-like raunchy humor and the occasional gratuitous porn reference. On the other hand, non-fans should stay as far away as possible. Just because he doesn't take a writing credit does not mean this New York-set film is all that different from Smith's Jersey tales.
Even for some of Smiths' most ardent admirers, however, this may be a very mixed bag indeed. Ultimately, there's no getting away from the slapdash plotting and borderline offensive lack of concern for its characters that mars "Cop Out." The writing Cullen brothers might have been intended the film as a wild live-action cartoon and it might well have worked better on that level, but Smith seems intent on delivering his version of a semi-believable cop comedy along the lines of "Beverly Hills Cop" or "48 Hours." On that level, the film fails utterly. And please don't tell me that "it's just a comedy" so it doesn't matter. That's a real cop out.