Cop Out isn’t Kevin Smith’s worst movie, for those who are keeping track. His worst movie remains Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, that celebrity-studded, laugh-free, self-absorbed in-joke of a movie. Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back is about as funny as Scary Movie, or Epic Movie, or Disaster Movie, or any of those other lazy parody parades – but at least those other junkers tend to reference movies that most everyone has seen. Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back expects that you’ve seen low-budget critical favorites like Clerks and Chasing Amy, which could reasonably be considered to be an arrogant assumption on the part of its makers.
Cop Out isn’t quite as bad. Cop Out at least had the good sense to cast action-movie veteran Bruce Willis and comedy savant Tracy Morgan, rather than the line-mangling Jason Mewes and an endlessly mugging Kevin Smith, but in this case the improvement is only marginal. Bruce Willis looks drowsy, bored, and even a little sickly throughout the movie. He looks like he’s stuck on line at the bank, just waiting to pick up his paycheck, and some loud fat lady in front of him keeps making a lot of noise to the manager. Meanwhile, Tracy Morgan is that fat lady. He shouts every last one of his lines and shows very little of the self-awareness and charm that his fans (myself included) have come to expect.
Cop Out is a buddy-cop comedy, intended to have the charisma and care-free fun of the 1980s cop movies that made the genre so popular. Kevin Smith directed the movie, but he didn’t write it. That’s kind of like inviting Alex Rodriguez up to the mike to do stand-up comedy. Kevin Smith is a talented writer who very possibly could have come up with a fun buddy-cop story. What Kevin Smith does not have is the sense of visual stamina or momentum that the genre needs (nor does his longtime DP Dave Klein). What Kevin Smith could also have used is a sense of history – or do I really need to point out that the reason why those ‘80s cop flicks were so great is because they started with solid scripts and energetic participants? Always remember that 48 Hours was written by Walter Hill, that Lethal Weapon was written by Shane Black, that Fletch was written by Andrew Bergman (Blazing Saddles), that Beverly Hills Cop starred Eddie Murphy at the height of his comedic powers.
By contrast, Cop Out began life as a script by Robb & Mark Cullen, TV writers who may yet prove to be very talented but who surely haven’t done so on the basis of this evidence. It wouldn’t be fair to blame Kevin Smith for the awfulness of the story – the blame begins with the Cullen brothers, continues with whatever studio people thought this script was worth producing, and ends with Kevin Smith, who somehow thought it was worth making as the first film he has directed but didn’t write. Kevin Smith always struck me as a savvy guy – since when did he become the kind of cynic who is lazy enough to hang a movie on a plot where a cop causes remarkable havoc trying to get back a valuable baseball card from a Mexican gang, so that he can sell it and pay for his daughter’s wedding?
That is the actual plot of Cop Out, for the record. Bruce Willis drives up a significant body count trying to track down a baseball card. It’s the only way he can think of to pay for his kid’s wedding – which makes his character seem obnoxiously prideful, by the way, since her step-father was intending to pay for the wedding in the first place. Sure, the step-father is a bit of a prick, but he’s also played by Jason Lee, and if you’re a long-time Kevin Smith fan, like I have been, it’s impossible to hate Jason Lee. (This wasn’t what I meant when I suggested that Smith work with Lee again.) In a convoluted turn of events, a Mexican gang comes into possession of the valuable collectible, so Bruce and Tracy (as his partner) have to go on the rampage. Since when does
Tracy Morgan, in this movie, is married to Rashida Jones, the adorably wry actress who’s most famous for her roles on The Office and Parks & Recreation. I have nothing but love both of these actors, really and truly, but still: There is no comedy on earth broad enough to convince me that Rashida Jones could ever fall for Tracy Morgan. So maybe it’s understandable that he spends the entire movie snooping around on her, convinced that she’s cheating on him with the next-door neighbor. What isn’t understandable is what this subplot is doing clogging up a cop comedy. We’re supposed to be taking our inspiration from ‘80s cop movies here, not ‘80s sitcoms. At least there’s a teddy bear with a camera in it; that’s what I was hoping to see when I bought my ticket.
Along the way, Bruce and Tracy cross paths with Seann William Scott as a parkour enthusiast who robs houses and craps in their bathrooms during the robberies. Seann William Scott can be terrific at driving comedy plots (see Role Models or American Wedding), but he is not terrific here, and that’s as nice as I can be about it. Bruce and Tracy also rescue a hostage along the way, a cute Mexican girl who doesn’t speak a word of English. Her one running joke is that she says “hi” a lot. She’s also the second gorgeous woman in the movie who improbably falls in love with
There’s plenty more wrong with Cop Out. There’s the way it totally wastes great stand-up comedians like Kevin Pollak, Susie Essman, and most egregiously, Jim Norton (who doesn’t even get in an attempt at a joke.) There’s the way it was just clever enough to hire composer Harold Faltermeyer (Fletch, Beverly Hills Cop), yet not clever enough to notice that his score is atrocious – grating and relentless. There’s the way that Bruce and
What makes it depressing is that Kevin Smith was ultimately responsible for it, not some forgettable talentless director. Kevin Smith is so far from untalented, but you’d never know it if you were to watch Cop Out, a movie that is best described as sluggish, unfunny, and mean-spirited. He’s capable of so much more than this movie, but he settled for doing it, and that’s disappointing and sad. Let’s face it: The sun will rise and set on Kevin Smith regardless of what I think, but I wish that this time around he’d seriously listen to the people who didn’t like Cop Out, because many of them – myself included – used to be counted among his fans.