February 26, 2010 / by tom
Bruce Willis (as Jimmy) and Tracy Morgan (as Paul) are police officers and partners. When Jimmy’s extremely rare 1950s era baseball card (and sole means of paying for his daughter’s wedding) is stolen, he and Paul embark on a quest to get it back. However, retrieving the card becomes increasingly problematic when they discover that it’s been purloined by a sports-memorabilia obsessed Mexican drug lord. Based on the atrocious trailer, my expectations for Cop Out, Kevin Smith’s second non-New Jersey based film, were decidedly low. While the film exceeded my expectations, I’m still not quite sure that’s a compliment. [morelink]
The film is unconcerned with plot. Its primary purpose is to allow Morgan and Willis to crack wise between brief bouts of action. The movie is an homage to the ‘80s buddy-cop/comedy/action genre: Beverly Hills Cop, Fletch, Running Scared, etc. One common thread throughout those films (and their lesser counterparts) is that of a comedian playing a cop who “doesn’t play by the rules”. Smith does his best to recapture the magic of these films. In fact, much of the film’s charm is derived from this stroll down memory lane. All the clichés are present: the banter between partners, the obligatory suspension, the “wacky” handling of criminals. Smith even gets the music right by having Harold “Axel F” Faltermeyer himself score the film.
Cop Out is the first that Smith has directed without writing. It’s written by Robb Cullen and Mark Cullen and Smith has adamantly denied doing a rewrite (or even “punching-up” the script) though that’s pretty difficult to believe given the dialog in the film. Much of the movie’s humor is what you’d expect (and, admittedly, what Smith does best): pop-culture references punctuated with jokes of a sexual and/or scatological nature. But also in the mix is something else that Smith does well, which is often overlooked – a strong display of friendship between seemingly disparate types. For all of his supposed “raunchiness”, Smith more often than not offers an unexpectedly conservative world-view. After all, what was the message of Clerks if not “pull yourself up by your own boot straps”. And, buried beneath all the dirty jokes, what was the underrated Zack & Miri Make a Porno if not a love letter to monogamy? And Clerks II? It was an earnest reminder that success and happiness is better measured by friends and family than it is by dollars and sense.
Ultimately, I found myself wishing Cop Out was better than it was. I have ample affection for the films that Smith is paying tribute to. And the film was certainly not without its charm. But for every joke that works, two fall flat; though given the number of jokes, that’s still a lot of “working” jokes. But the film does manage to ingratiate itself through sheer force of will. The charisma of Morgan and Willis combined with a healthy dose of nostalgia for a sub-genre that I didn’t realize I even had an affinity for makes the film more enjoyable than it probably had any right to be. Will it be quoted with the same level of vociferousness as Fletch twenty years from now? It’s hard to gauge on a first viewing. But Smith has a pretty good track record for quotability.