Kevin Smith is a writer first, director second. Even his most passionate fan would have a hard time arguing the merits of Smith’s directing technique, which mostly consists of filming everything so it looks like a scene from a canceled sitcom. Clerks has a distinctive visual style, but only because it’s in black & white — and that was only because Smith was too broke to do it any other way.
The popular consensus, which Smith has occasionally seemed to agree with, is that he’s been in a bit of a creative funk lately. So it would make sense to have him focus on what he’s best at, right? Maybe write a really sharp script, and hand it over to a director who could knock it out of the park?
Nah. This is Hollywood, where nothing makes sense. Why do things the right way, when you can spend $37 million doing them in reverse? Exhibit A: Cop Out, in which a middling director is handed a shitty script and tries to save it with some brilliant casting. Spoiler alert: No one goes home happy.
Ostensibly a knowing, mildly subversive tribute to the buddy cop flicks of the ’80s, Cop Out stars Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan as Jimmy and Paul, a pair of quibbling NYPD cops whose clear lack of aptitude hasn’t kept them from staying partners for nine years. From the opening scene, you pretty much know what you’re in for: Willis smirks and squints a lot; Morgan says endearingly stupid shit with brain-damaged conviction. Lather, rinse, repeat. Truth be told, it isn’t a bad formula, but the script doesn’t have any interesting ideas; it’s just your garden-variety quips ‘n’ chases flick, and while it’s impossible to deny that Willis and Morgan are both doing what they do best here, it’s also immediately apparent that you’ve seen them do it in better movies and TV shows.
People were pissed when Warners balked at the original title, A Couple of Dicks, but it turned out well; at least this way, the movie’s title isn’t its cleverest ingredient. That honor goes to the casting of Seann William Scott as Dave, an inept burglar who looks and acts like a grown-up Stifler, right down to stopping to take a dump while robbing someone’s house. (His victim? Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Susie Essman, who pops up long enough to scream a few minutes of profanity. Are you spotting the “cast people to play their best-known characters” theme yet?) When Willis, Morgan, and Scott are together, their steady riffing helps paper over the fact that there isn’t much of a movie here. It isn’t better, necessarily, just juvenile and chaotic enough to force your brain to stop asking questions.
Smith has argued that Cop Out‘s just a comedy, but the problem with his defense is that the movie isn’t very funny. It doesn’t really subvert the buddy-cop genre, and it doesn’t add anything to it. It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do, other than regurgitate tropes from more entertaining movies. As a film, it’s kind of like that bit from Eddie Murphy’s Delirious where he mocks all the audience members who will take his routines to work the next day, try to share them around the water cooler, and fail miserably. Watching Cop Out is like watching people act out the genre’s greatest bits: Remember that time when that cop acted crazy? And hey, remember that scene where the police chief hauls the detectives into his office, and they act all nonchalant and…yeah, you probably had to be there.
All that being said, I have to reiterate that the cast is terrific, and even if no one is being asked to stretch the slightest bit (Kevin Pollak, Rashida Jones, and Guillermo Diaz are a few more familiar faces who pop up to do what they do best), their collective charm goes a long way. It’s no classic, and Harold Faltermeyer’s self-referential score will just leave you wanting to watch Fletch again, but on the whole, Cop Out is an amiable waste of 107 minutes. Put another way: If you go by Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer, this movie is only 11 percent better than The Last Airbender, which seems pretty harsh. It isn’t bad enough that you need to avoid watching it — you just don’t need to own it.
Which is a shame, because once again, Kevin Smith has taken full advantage of Blu-ray technology to deliver a fine batch of added content. The 1080p VC-1 encode is fine, and the DTS-HD 5.1 MA soundtrack is robust, with plenty of dynamic — but again, this is a Kevin Smith film, so it looks a lot like a big-budget TV show, and neither the picture nor the sound is enough to justify its hi-def existence. What makes it all worthwhile are the special features: Smith hosts a “Maximum Movie Mode” track that ends up nearly doubling the length of the film, adding all kinds of deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes trivia, split screens, split split screens, in-the-frame walk-ons, “wisdom” from Scott’s character, so on and so forth. None of it explains the mystery of why anyone thought it would be a good idea to have Smith direct someone else’s script, but it does add a substantial amount of enjoyment to a film that probably doesn’t deserve the extra effort.
Adding another level of value to the package is the inclusion of a DVD/digital copy disc in the bundle. At $40 list, that’s still not enough to make it worth buying, but Amazon’s selling Cop Out for roughly half that right now, so Smith completists — and anyone who’s in desperate, desperate need of a brain-optional evening of entertainment — may find themselves tempted. Me, I’d rather watch Fletch…but I won’t judge you.
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