Director : Kevin Smith
Screenplay : Rob Cullen & Mark Cullen
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2010
Stars : Bruce Willis (Jimmy Monroe), Tracy Morgan (Paul Hodges), Guillermo Díaz (Poh Boy), Seann William Scott (Dave), Kevin Pollak (Hunsaker), Adam Brody (Barry Mangold), Rashida Jones (Debbie Sean), Ana de la Reguera (Gabriela), Sean Cullen (Captain Romans), Michelle Trachtenberg (Ava), Jason Lee (Roy), Francie Swift (Pam)
It’s no secret that Kevin Smith has been trying to reboot the Fletch franchise for the better part of the past decade, and the fact that Cop Out features a suspiciously similar synth score by Fletch composer Harold Faltermeyer and ends with Stephanie Mills’ “Bit by Bit (Theme From Fletch)” suggests that he has finally given up on that endeavor and embraced this retro cop comedy as his consolation. Unfortunately, Cop Out is a sorry consolation, partially because he is saddled with a lame, derivative, and generally unfunny script by Rob and Mark Cullen (writer/producers of the TV series Las Vegas) and partially because Smith is terribly ill-suited to the material, which makes one think that maybe it’s for the best that his version of Fletch never worked out. This is the first time Smith has directed something he hasn’t written, and the resulting mess is testament that his cinematic strengths are in putting pen to paper, not working behind the camera.
The basic set-up in Cop Out is a riff on all those mixed-race buddy-cop movies from the 1980s (48 Hrs., Lethal Weapon, etc.). Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan star as Jimmy Monroe and Paul Hodges, who have been working together for nine years, but, from what we see on screen, have somehow failed to develop any chemistry during that time. Willis’ Jimmy is all hard-nosed, chrome-dome business, while Morgan plays the clown, constantly yammering to increasingly diminishing effect. The film’s opening sequence is instructive as to just how inept the film is as a whole: Jimmy and Paul are interrogating a drug dealer, and Paul insists that he get to play the “bad cop” this time, which for him means going into the room and making a fool of himself by reciting lines from movies as varied as Scarface, RoboCop, and The Color Purple (an in-jokey reference to Die Hard is so forced it is literally embarrassing). The scene’s desperate attempts to make funny reach an apotheosis when Paul presses the dealer’s face against the two-way mirror and Jimmy draws an obscene picture in the dealer’s clouded breath on the glass. This would be only mildly funny at best, but our attention is distracted by the fact that Jimmy couldn’t possibly do this because he’s on the other side of the mirror. Thus, the gag is both unfunny and in defiance of the laws of physics.
Nevertheless, the film presses forward with an aggressive, desperate sense of urgency, dragging us through a series of hopelessly contrived but ultimately interrelated subplots involving the impending wedding of Jimmy’s daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg) and the attempts by his ex-wife’s obnoxious new husband (Jason Lee) to pay for it, which compels Jimmy to sell a prized baseball card that is stolen out from under him by a motor-mouthed thief played by Seann William Scott, whose goofy sense of abandon is the only real sign of life in the film. Meanwhile, we are treated to the violent exploits of a Mexican drug lord named Poh Boy (Guillermo Díaz) who eventually comes into possession of the baseball card, which forces Jimmy and Paul to help him steal back a car that happens to be carrying the kidnapped mistress (Ana de la Reguera) of a rival drug lord in the trunk. Oh, yes, and Paul is hopelessly jealous of his wife (Rashida Jones) and is sure that she is cheating on him.
As a supposedly loving homage to a familiar Hollywood subgenre, Cop Out is a dismal, borderline embarrassing failure, the kind of movie you would expect from people with much less talent than those involved here. It hits all the expected plot points and trots out all the familiar characters (including a pair of competing police detectives played by Kevin Pollak and Adam Brody), but nothing really adds up. Neither Willis nor Morgan register as anything other than tired cardboard clichés, and the harder they work to be funny (or, in Willis’ case, the harder he tries to play the straight man), the less enjoyable the film is. It’s cinematic paint-by-numbers, and Smith’s sloppy direction goes all outside the lines. His strength as a filmmaker has always been his writing, particularly his unique ability to tread the thin line between the obscene and the touching, but here it’s just all poop jokes and f-bombs fueled by the grating misnomer that louder equals funnier, with virtually every scene somehow culminating in one or more characters shouting. As an action director Smith is just a few steps away from genuine incompetence (he’s clearly working far outside his comfort zone), and every time the film turns violent it descends into a clumsy morass of incoherence that makes us wish for the days when he kept his camera confined to a convenience store.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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