Cop Out * ½
Directed By: Kevin Smith.
Written By: Robb & Mark Cullen.
Starring: Bruce Willis (Jimmy Monroe), Tracy Morgan (Paul Hodges), Seann William Scott (Dave), Cory Fernandez (Juan), Sean Cullen (Captain Romans), Kevin Pollak (Hunsaker), Adam Brody (Barry Mangold), Guillermo Díaz (Poh Boy), Michelle Trachtenberg (Ava), Rashida Jones (Debbie), Jason Lee (Roy), Francie Swift (Pam).
Kevin Smith has always been a better writer than director. His writing style, although as filled with fart and dick jokes as any big Hollywood comedy, has always been distinctive to him. In short, you can tell a Kevin Smith dick joke from anyone else’s. He has also always been able to create real characters – characters you actually care about – in between all those jokes. As a director, he isn’t bad – but he isn’t great either. He has a point and shoot style that I have always felt worked for his movies as well as any other style would have. Besides, I am usually too busy laughing to care much how he shot the movies.
Smith didn’t write his new film Cop Out, and you can tell. The film at times plays like something trying to copy Smith’s writing style – minus all the dick jokes as there are precious few here – and not quite getting it right. The characters are cookie cutter creations – nothing really defines them beyond what the screenplay requires of them. And as a director Smith just isn’t quite able to pull it all off. Between all the jokes are action sequences that do not work. In short, Cop Out is a mess.
The movie is about two cops who have been partners for 9 years. Jimmy (Bruce Willis) is a veteran – gruff, intractable and willing to do anything to get results. Paul (Tracy Morgan) seems less experienced (although since he has been partners for 9 years with Jimmy, he shouldn’t), and more all over the map – a bumbling idiot in short. When Jimmy needs to pay for his daughter’s wedding, he goes to sell his prized baseball card – worth upwards of $80,000 – but ends up in the middle of a robbery at the card store, and loses it. So they go and try and track down the card – taking them deeper and deeper into the drug trade.
Willis seems bored in the movie. I know that he is trying for a deadpan comic tone in the film – but aside a few isolated incidents, he doesn’t get that tone down correctly. After so many cop movies, he should be perfect at this – sending up his screen image like Robert DeNiro in Analyze This or Marlon Brando in The Freshman. But he doesn’t get it right. Morgan on the other hand is both the films greatest asset, and its biggest liability. No, you do not believe for a second that this bumbling idiot could be a cop for as long as he has, and risen through the ranks as much as he has. Morgan plays the character as a not too distant relative from his clueless celebrity on 30 Rock (on which, Morgan is brilliant). Yet once I realized that Morgan’s performance is completely wrong for the character, and just sort of rolled with it, I quite enjoyed him. Let it not be said that Morgan is not a funny actor – he is, and in moments he is hilarious here – particularly when he is arguing with the great Seann William Scott (another highlight roll as parkour enthusiast and thief). Kevin Pollack and Adam Brody have a few nice moments as well as a sort of rival partnership to Willis and Morgan. And Jason Lee can play his asshole character in his sleep, but doesn’t here, and also rings a few chuckles out of his character.
The problem with the movie is that the moments that work is so few and far between – separated by long periods where absolutely nothing on screen works at all. The movie never builds any comic momentum, as there is so much crap in it. The Mexican gangsters in the film are all one dimensional and played like cartoon caricatures and not real people. Worse still, they are never even funny.
Smith has said that it is getting harder for him to get his own movies made, and I believe him. It seems like it isn’t really the small movies that are getting shut out in Hollywood these days – there are dozens of indies released every year – but the middle sized movies. The ones that Smith made for $10 million that turned a nice little profit but not much else. So I do understand why he jumped at the opportunity to make a big studio movie with a major star like Willis. And judging on the opening weekend box office, Smith will have the biggest hit of his career with this film. Hopefully what that means is that Smith will be able to get one of his own movies made. If he doesn’t, than he made Cop Out for no reason.