“Cop Out” begins like so many action buddy-cop movies: a wide angle shot of the Manhattan skyline. This is where the film will take place, you think to yourself in the theater, except all of a sudden the camera pans to the right and gives us a similar shot of Brooklyn accompanied by “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” by the Beastie Boys. This clever beginning is unfortunately where the inventiveness of the film ends.
Don’t get me wrong: it is a very funny film, but I cannot remember seeing a film made this poorly in a long time.
Director Kevin Smith has never been the strongest director; his talents have always been as a screenwriter independently producing films like “Dogma” and “Clerks.” While those films may have been a little short on production value, you could always rely on his insightful, clever dialogue to make his films interesting. With two first–time screenwriters in the Cullen brothers, who have worked predominantly in television, the wittiness you expect from a Kevin Smith film is nowhere to be seen.
Most of the film’s laughs come from the incomparable Tracy Morgan. He plays detective Paul Hodges alongside his partner, Jimmy Monroe, played by Bruce Willis. Tracy Morgan is a madman; there is no other way to describe him. Completely unpredictable, hilarious and bizarre, he makes references to “In the Heat of the Night,” discusses the mating habits of baboons and does impressions of “Robo-Cop” really for no reason except to be funny. And he is.
If you liked his work on “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live,” or his stand–up comedy programs, there is little doubt you will laugh during “Cop Out,” but you need more than one man to make an entertaining film.
Smith saw this film as a tribute to the ’80s and early ’90s era of the buddy–cop comedy, and there are certainly small elements that are effective, but you need more than movie quotes and generic characters to create an homage. The film feels lazily made.
For example, the score – which IMDb tells me was done by Harold Faltermeyer, who apparently was the king of late ’80s cop comedy genre score — is terrible. Kevin Smith brought him out of retirement for this film specifically, but the end result sounds like the inebriated jam sessions of my old roommate and his keyboard. Those sounds still haunt my dreams.
The plot is not much better: a generic police chief puts our heroes on suspension for having a shoot–out in a neighborhood (you know the dialogue, “Badges and guns! Now!”), but they are definitely still going to try to shut down the Mexican gangbanger Poh Boy, played surprisingly well by Guillermo Diaz. Of course there are the rival bumbling police partners who do things by the book and have never fired their guns, and it will all ultimately lead to the final shoot-out in Poh-Boy’s house.
Having a similar plot to “Beverly Hills Cop” doesn’t make it an homage, and Bruce Willis on cop role autopilot certainly doesn’t help. The gap between a film like “Cop Out” and a truly successful homage like “Shaun of the Dead” is vast.
So if what you want is an ’80s–style cop comedy, I would rent one preferably starring Eddy Murphy. If you want to laugh at Tracy Morgan’s jokes, I would suggest renting his stand-up or “30 Rock.” You will laugh just as hard, but you won’t have to endure the additional storylines that ultimately derail “Cop Out.”