I haven't spoken to Kevin Smith regarding "Cop Out," but everything I've read him say is that he doesn't look at this as a "Kevin Smith" movie. It seems to be hard to review his films without reviewing him to some degree, but I get the feeling he'd rather be left out of the review. So fair enough. Suffice it to say he directed and edited the film.
"Cop Out" is a case study in how you can do everything right in theory and everything wrong in practice. I like the idea of hiring writer/directors to sometimes shoot someone else's script, and I think they should do the opposite, too... have someone else direct their work and give that person the trust of final cut. And so I'm down with the idea of hiring this guy to make a movie outside his comfort zone. Tracy Morgan is a performer who's only as good as the context you give him, and I like the notion of him in a cop film with a real cop movie icon, Bruce Willis. That works as an idea. Seann William Scott and Guillermo Diaz and Kevin Pollack and Adam Brody and Jason Lee... all good comic performers who have had great moments in the past, and who make sense if you're trying to fill the cast out. A script that makes the much-discussed "Black List", which increasingly seems to be "the list of all the stuff that's about to start casting in the next four to six months" rather than any sort of genuine poll of the best unproduced scripts. All of these things are ingredients that should add up to a fun studio comedy that pays playful "ho-mage" to the interracial buddy cop films of the '80s.
They don't, though. At all.
There's another film I'll be reviewing this weekend that suffers from the same problem. It looks good on the menu, as a hypothetical, and all the parts are in place for what should be a slam-dunk. But if the spark of life isn't there, if the chemistry isn't right, the Frankenstein monster doesn't stand up. The film's got no pulse. The biggest problem is that Tracy Morgan is acting in his movie, and Bruce Willis is acting in his movie, and that's clear right away when the film breaks them up for an interrogation scene. Morgan does shtick inside the room, and Willis does bemused cutaway reaction shots. That's pretty much the whole film, too. Seann William Scott plays a guy who robs a collectibles store, then gets caught robbing a house, then abused mercilessly by Morgan and Willis for a while. That can totally work if the chemistry between the leads is solid and the irritant works to disrupt their regular rhythm. But when everyone's just doing their own thing, waiting for the next person's turn to do some shtick, it's no fun.
The script is a problem. In order to really pull of this sort of comedy, you have to create a drive through the film. It can be the flimsiest excuse possible ("We're on a mission from God"), but as long as there's an excuse, you have to have an excuse for all the bad behavior. I like these movies done right. I even like other examples of Willis doing this kind of film. "The Last Boy Scout" is great, legitimately wild and warped, and it's because there is an uneasy sense of palpable near-violence between Damon Wayans and Willis. They're definitely in the same movie, even if they want to kill each other. Willis seems like he's got one eye on the door in every moment he shares with Morgan, who plays the whole movie to the back row of the theater. He's only got one volume and one speed on this one, and it's the same note he strikes already on "30 Rock," although there, the rest of the world is played at the same sort of crazy volume and it works with Tracy as part of it. Tracy's subplot about his wife, played by Rashida Jones, would be a weak b-plot for a sitcom episode, but as his entire storyline in a feature film? It's just ridiculous. So basic. So badly executed.
I know what sort of film this wants to be. And I love "48 Hrs". I love "Beverly Hills Cop." I love "Fletch." I love the notion of playing the cop movie side dead straight and blockbustery, while playing the comedy side full-throttle. I think the only way it works is if the cop movie matters in some way. Here, the excuse of retrieving a stolen baseball card might work if the set-up was handled right. Instead, there's a scene with Jason Lee as the stepfather to Bruce Willis's daughter, Michelle Trachtenberg, and it's a perfect example of a set-up without any clear punchline. Everyone involved knows what this film is supposed to look like, and what beats are supposed to be where, but that doesn't mean the set pieces work. It doesn't mean there are actual jokes there. Just leaving a place for a comedy scene and having performers talk at each other doesn't mean it's funny. There's no shape to anything, no character to play off of. In "Beverly Hills Cop," Paramount's genius was building a whole movie full of scenes that are essentially riffs off the shitkicker bar in "48 Hrs," when Eddie Murphy flashed the borrowed badge and acted out. It was him as the most confident b.s. artist alive, and in the first "Cop," he talked his way through the entire film, and the shoot-outs were just as crucial to the film's success as the comedy. Here, there are punctuation marks of violence, but there's no energy to it. It's perfunctory. Guns go off, and then people stand around and do more shtick at each other instead of playing scenes. Rinse. Repeat.
The Harold Faltermeyer score is the film's one great touch. It's a clever touch, and Faltermeyer's score is almost enough to convince you that you're really watching one of the films that inspired this one. It's a score for a better movie, and that's a shame. I really wanted to enjoy what this was doing. I like Willis when he's in the right comedy. I was rooting for the film to work as pure entertainment. Instead, it made me want to come home and put on the movies that came before, the source instead of ths particular riff. It's a movie I'd have a hard time hating because I don't get the feeling it mattered much to anyone who made it, so why should I invest more energy on it than they did?
"Cop Out" opens everywhere today.
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