By Carl Kozlowski
February 26, 2010
Rarely has a movie so perfectly matched its title as the new buddy-cop movie Cop Out. Starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan in the first film that veteran director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma) has ever made from another writer's script, the film's concept is a crime against humanity and, particularly, film buffs.
The script is by Robb and Mark Cullen (which gets Smith off the hook a little bit), a fact that should force them to immediately enroll in remedial writing classes. From the ridiculously over-wrought opening scenes in which Brooklyn cop Morgan is allowed to obnoxiously improvise his way through dozens of lines from other, far better movies while conducting a prisoner interrogation, to the mostly generic shootout scenes to the “plot” that's interchangeable with literally dozens of other cop movies, Cop Out is one big, sadly underachieving mess.
The film follows the exploits of Jimmy Monroe (Willis) and Paul Hodges (Morgan) as they try to bring down a Latino robbery ring led by Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz, in an embarrassing performance). The gang appears to operate with utter impunity from inside a Catholic church, where Poh Boy is first seen praying in the front pew before his flunkies bring in a member ... whom Poh Boy orders executed. The bullet through the head comes right on the steps of the altar, after Poh Boy says, “Forgive me Father, for I am about to sin” and then follows up the murder by standing with arms extended under the Crucifix that hangs above the altar. In other words, we're getting the most "subtle" portrayal of religious imagery since Smith directed Dogma.
The “plot” grows ostensibly thicker when Willis learns that he and Morgan are suspended without pay (by a screaming police chief who shouts their last names repeatedly, of course) for their bungling of a stakeout. Willis next learns that his daughter's dream wedding is going to cost over $48,000, which is money he doesn't have—but he utterly refuses to let her smarmily wealthy stepdad (Jason Lee) humiliate him by footing the bill either. His solution: sell his prized possession, a rare baseball card that's worth over $80,000.
Just as Willis is about to sell the card in a memorabilia shop, two robbers led by Seann William Scott (Stifler of American Pie fame) burst in the door, taser Willis and make off with the card as part of their stash. But the tables turn again when Willis and Morgan inadvertently bust Scott the very next night for burglary of a house. As Willis forces Scott to help him follow the trail of the baseball card, the trio wind up ever more drawn into the battle against Poh Boy.
Along the way, Morgan has a running subplot in which he's certain his wife (Rashida Jones) is cheating on him and he engages in some admittedly funny tactics to catch her in the act. Jones' actions in response are examples of one of the few things that Cop Out gets right: its female characters are often as funny or funnier than the male stars. They're all feisty, consistently getting the upper hand in a refreshing change of pace from the thankless roles actresses had to endure in the initial wave of '80s cop films. In fact, a truly priceless sequence (that's better than the film itself) comes when Willis and Morgan are about to nail the home burglary suspect, and the homeowner—a tough-talking, middle-aged single mom (Susie Essman of Curb Your Enthusiasm) with her preteen son in tow—reveals that she has a gun in her purse and fully intends to take control of the situation herself.
Aside from that, Willis' performance is one of the only brights spots of the film. He exhibits the breezy yet macho charm that made him a star in the first place and which he's sadly underutilized onscreen since “Pulp Fiction.” Willis mostly either makes junk like The Whole Ten Yards or hyper-serious films these days, and it's nice to see him step back and just have some fun, even if the material he's playing with ought to be stronger.
After his painfully overbearing opening scenes, Morgan eventually plays a variation of his much-better-written 30 Rock character Tracy Jordan and manages to extract some laughs. Scott brings a couple fresh twists to his trademark persona of Stifler through loopy and deliciously absurd moments, but the supporting role is still a step back from his comeback in Role Models.
Nearly every other character and performance in Cop Out is indistinguishable from the next, particularly with the Latino gang members. Sure, Cop Out is paying tribute to the '80s cop films that seemed to define bad guys by the very fact they were ethnic, but 20 years have passed and as much as I hate the PC-ification of society, this film often feels like it's crossing the line of both taste and logic in how shallowly it demonizes its baddies.
Smith's direction is mostly just competent, as the action scenes lack flair, but he hits a few nice sequences when the lead buddies and Scott are engaging in the kind of long-winded yet funny banter as Smith's iconic Clerks characters. Finally, the Cop Out score by '80s soundtrack stalwart Harold Faltermeyer (Beverly Hills Cop, Fletch) is easily the most painful auditory experience I believe I've ever had in a theater. Its unceasing mish-mash of disjointed keyboard notes could have been composed to equal “quality” by a team of chimpanzees flinging keyboards across their cages. In other words: it's a fairly fitting score to the mess of Cop Out.