Cop Out: It Wouldn’t Have Been Funny in the 1980s Either
Kevin Smith tries his best to emulate the buddy comedies of the 1980s in his latest film, Cop Out. To paraphrase a song from that era, I guess his best wasn’t good enough. He tries to incorporate his usual trademark sources of humor– pop-culture references with a healthy dose of defecation and genitalia– but it never gels. Even more unfortunate, Smith has absolutely zero concept of how to stage or pace an action scene, so all shootouts and car chases are stagnant. Most unfortunate of all, the plot revolves around Willis and Morgan trying to retrieve a baseball card, so the story has absolutely nothing noteworthy at stake and absolutely nothing in terms of direction or story arc. He’s simply in love with watching his movie stars make dirty jokes and banter, as if that were enough to make a passable movie.
Plot? What’s that? We’ve got Jimmy (Bruce Willis), a grizzled older cop designed to have no depth of character other than the fact that he sports a Bruce Willisesque grimace at literally all times. We also have Paul (Tracy Morgan), a buffoon of a cop who in no way deserves his gorgeous and intelligent wife (Rashida Jones), so he deals with a recurring suspicion that she’s cheating on him throughout the film. Jimmy wants to pay for his daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg)’s wedding, but he’s suspended without pay because of a public embarrassment from Jimmy and Paul’s last attempted bust. D’oh. In order to make the money, he plans on selling a famous baseball card. It gets stolen, however, at the collectibles shop where he tries to sell it by a floppy haired doofus with a taser (Seann William Scott). D’oh again. They track him down, and then they track down the person he sold the card to, who is coincidentally the big dangerous drug leader named Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz).
This sounds very complicated, but it’s of literally zero consequence. The plot is moved along in the most rudimentary way possible, and it really only exists as an excuse for the leads to exchange R-rated banter. Bruce Willis, who can be so funny and charming if he’s allowed to cut back, manages to remove nearly all of the personality that makes him a movie star. Tracy Morgan is outstanding in small doses with the right absurd material, but with only one or two exceptions, he comes off here as annoying, and he gives us little to no reason why he would be hired as a cop in the first place. Seann William Scott does some of the same obnoxious dumb white guy shtick he’s been doing since he was Stifler in the American Pie series, with few of the laughs he got then. I will give credit to Adam Brody and Kevin Pollak as Mangold and Hunsaker, the straight cops who are on the Poh Boy case and mock the idiocy of Jimmy and Paul along the way. They actually manage some chemistry, and I sat there wishing I was watching some cop show starring them rather than this film. Guillermo Diaz also has some fun chewing the scenery as the drug lord slash baseball aficionado.
It’d be so easy to blame the script by Mark and Robb Cullen, which is long on unoriginal dialogue and short on anything that matters in a film like visuals, plot, or characters. I’m not certain what it is about their resume as creators of a number of failed TV series that ignited a passion in Kevin Smith for this project, but for a first-time produced film by writers who have gotten four television shows onto the air that lasted for a combined 40 episodes, I guess it’s what you’d expect. Unfortunately, the blame falls entirely onto the shoulders of Kevin Smith. He’s somewhat of a childhood hero of mine for films like Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Dogma. I’ve even found enjoyment in some of his more plotless affairs, like Mallrats and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. However, since then, he’s struggled to find his footing as an actual film director. It’s as if his blissful immaturity fueled his film then, and now that he’s grown up, he finds himself trying to capture that same immaturity as a sort of wish fulfillment for the glory days of his youth when his films were good.
The saddest part of it all, to end this review on a slight tangent, is Kevin Smith’s response to the critical drubbing that Cop Out has taken. He wrote in a series of Tweets, “”I gotta say that every day I hate film theory & film students & critics more & more. Film fandom’s become a nasty bloodsport where cartoonishly rooting for failure gets the hit count up. Watching them beat the s**t out of it was sad. Like, it’s called Cop Out; that sound like a very ambitious title to you? You REALLY wanna s**t in the mouth of a flick that so OBVIOUSLY strived for nothing more than laughs. Was it called Schindler’s Cop Out? Writing a nasty review for Cop Out is akin to bullying a retarded kid. All you’ve done is make fun of something that wasn’t doing you any harm and wanted only to give some cats some fun laughs.” First of all, Smith’s career took off largely due to the critical praise he got for Clerks and Chasing Amy, so there’s a serious case of biting the hand that fed you here. Furthermore, no one ever roots for a film to be bad. You think I enjoy watching an unfunny comedy? The problem is, Cop Out is not smart or funny and the performances are uninspired. There are plenty of fantastic movies that have gotten great reviews that “want only to give some cats fun laughs.” The difference is that those films deliver. Hot Tub Time Machine just came out and managed to get good reviews– and yet it wasn’t called Schindler’s Hot Tub Time Machine. (Although that sounds like the best movie ever.)