Cop Out (United States, 2010)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Cop Out Poster

Cop Out is Kevin Smith's first foray into mainstream action/comedy entertainment and the first time he has directed a film he did not write. This is evident - although there are a few ribald moments to be found sprinkled throughout, the movie's humor is muted and rarely attempts to offend the sensibilities of the more strait-laced audience members. Smith's career is largely founded on his reputation as a ground-breaker (his debut, Clerks, initially earned an NC-17 for profanity, although that was reversed on appeal) but with Cop Out, the cement beneath his feet doesn't suffer even a hairline fracture. The black/white wisecracker/straight man mismatched buddy cop thing has been done so often that it would demand a monumental effort to make it fresh, and Smith isn't up to that kind of heavy lifting. As it turns out, Cop Out is a pale imitation (which Smith would no doubt call an "homage") of 48 Hours. 15 minutes into this movie, I wanted to leave the theater, go home, and watch the Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy picture instead. It would have represented time better spent.

Over the years, Smith has shown the ability to make cursing, bodily fluids, and graphic descriptions of sexual deviancy hilarious, but the laughs to be found in Cop Out are occasional and generally not full-bellied. The filmmaker has always been a better writer than director so, for a studio to hire him as the latter and not the former, they are playing to his weakness. Indeed, Cop Out does not feel like a Kevin Smith movie unless you consider the lack of imagination in camera angles and the large number of static shots to be trademarks. The dialogue, even at its most racy, is generic and the jokes are lame. There are too many "laugh track" moments - gags that provoke a reaction in packed theaters because they are supposed to be funny, not because they actually are.

Cop Out, which bore the abandoned working title of A Couple of Dicks, pairs detectives Jimmy Monroe (Bruce Willis) and Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan). Unlike in many mismatched cop buddy movies, these two haven't just met - they have been partners for nine years (as Paul notes, longer than many Great Danes live). When a bust goes bad an informant ends up dead, Jimmy and Paul are given a one-month suspension without pay. That doesn't stop them from harassing the cops who inherit the case (played by Kevin Pollack and Adam Brody) or continuing the investigation on their own time. No one seems to think it odd that two suspended cops are running around arresting suspects, rescuing hostages, and getting involved in shoot-outs. The ending, like most of the action sequences, is as anti-climactic as one can imagine.

It's tough generating much enthusiasm for a motion picture that does a lot of things but none of them well. The comedy is lukewarm. The action is boring. The dialogue falls far short of the level of wit we normally expect from a Kevin Smith production. And the dramatic elements (Jimmy's relationship with his daughter, Paul's concern about his wife's possible infidelity), lightweight though they may be, fail to resonate. The chief bad guy, a drug dealer named Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz), is presented in full frothing-at-the-mouth mode and is more cartoonish than threatening. The story holds together best if little attention is paid to continuity (snack bar trips and lavatory breaks are encouraged). The filmmakers apparently don't care, so why should we?

Normally, Bruce Willis excels at playing the straight guy with a warped sense of humor. Die Hard is an example of this quality being effectively exploited. Here, however, he smirks a little too much and lacks the human element that makes John McClane an endearing screen presence. Tracy Morgan is a brilliant comedian whose talents are underused by the screenplay and the director. His contribution involves a lot of mugging for the camera, which is typically how comically adept actors are employed when playing staple characters. He's the "funny black guy" and is never allowed to become anything more. The third significant player is Seann William Scott as Dave, a thief who helps Jimmy and Paul with their inquiries. Dave, who bears more than passing resemblance to the Joe Pesci character in the Lethal Weapon series, is annoying. I suppose that's the point, but why would filmmakers create someone whose presence is as palatable as rotting carrion?

As a fellow critic noted, it's easy to see why Smith attached himself to this project: he gets to work with Bruce Willis, achieves some mainstream recognition, and receives a healthy paycheck (something important for a family man). The end result works out better for Smith than it does for anyone sitting in the theater watching the fruit of his labors. Okay, there are worse movies out there, but I'm hard-pressed to figure out why I'd waste my time and money watching something that's a half-baked retread of better movies I can stream from Netflix.

Cop Out (United States, 2010)

Run Time: 1:47
U.S. Release Date: 2010-02-26
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Content)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1