“Cop Out,” which opens in theaters today, never quite commits to itself.
The Warner Bros. film tells the story of two police detectives, Jimmy Monroe (Bruce Willis) and Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan) as they navigate their suspension from the force by completely ignoring their two weeks without pay. They land in this spot due to an undercover situation which went bad and involved Paul wearing a giant cell phone costume. Really.
Once suspended, Jimmy realizes that he must sell a prized baseball card in order to pay for his daughter’s wedding. Meanwhile, Paul is convinced that his wife is cheating on him with their next door neighbor.
While attempting to sell the card, Jimmy is tasered by a thief who just so happens to hold up the collectibles shop our hapless hero chose. Paul is unable to help because he’s too busy trying to get in touch with his wife on the phone at the time. This is supposed to be the central conflict between the two characters during the course of the movie, by the way – Paul’s tendency to get pre-occupied constantly lands Jimmy in trouble.
The duo catches up with the Parkour-enthusiast thief, Dave (Sean William Scott), who leads them to a Brooklyn drug enforcer Poh Boy, played by Guillermo Diaz. It seems that Scott has sold the card to Poh Boy, and in exchange for giving the card back to Jimmy, he makes a request – locate his lost Mercedes.
Once the pair tracks the car down, they discover Gabriela (Ana de la Reguera) tied up inside the trunk. She has information that would allow Poh Boy to expand beyond Brooklyn and he’ll pummel anyone to death with baseballs in order to get it.
While Paul takes on the job of protecting Gabriella, Jimmy becomes increasingly obsessed with getting his baseball card back. This eventually leads to the duo partnering up with Dave, the thief who stole the card in the first place.
It sounds like a breezy enough story, but even clocking in at a relatively slight 107 minutes, “Cop Out” moves at the speed of tar. All of the story threads are presented at a leisurely place, and when they connect up, it’s in awkward ways. Poh Boy is introduced long before he meets Jimmy and Paul, for no discernible reason. The initial set up of Jimmy’s monetary/baseball card predicament takes up much more screen time than it should. Even the suspension seems to take forever, and it happens just ten minutes into the film.
All that having been said, the major flaw of “Cop Out” is it’s lack of commitment. The film seems to want to parody buddy cop movies like “Lethal Weapon,” but it never really clicks. It expects you to accept Poh Boy as a legitimate threat while having him recite nothing but the most cliched dialogue; including, “Forgive me, father, for I am about to sin.” There are occasional flashes of Kevin Smith-style comedy, but for the most part the story plays out like a stodgy New York cop drama from the late 1990s. This lack of commitment can only have one source: director Kevin Smith.
Smith has become a workman director. He’s working on a major scale with major actors, but the spark he had as one of the Miramax darlings a decade ago is gone. His voice has been submerged and his style has become something worse than bad – it is inoffensive. Never a visualist, Smith relied on entertaining dialogue and character in films like “Clerks” and “Chasing Amy.” While never known for his realistic dialogue, Smith’s movies had pep and a deep sense of construction. His characters tended to be relatable, even when they were thinly drawn or even caricatures. If the plot forced him into a cliched corner, Smith would blatantly call himself on it and be lauded for his cleverness.
Those things are missing in “Cop Out.” Jimmy and Paul are, ultimately, ciphers, with any semblance of life being given them by the actors in the roles. The actual humor that comes across feels improvised instead of tightly scripted. Not one tired, obvious scene with Poh Boy is called out for what it is. At some point, the viewer should care about Jimmy and Paul, but that moment never comes. The “dick and fart” jokes Smith likes to claim he is famous for – of which there are only a few – fall flat. Even the “pals break up” sequence is half-hearted. In “Mallrats” and “Chasing Amy,” these sequences are highlights, but in “Cop Out,” it is so perfunctory, it serves solely as a half-hearted set-up for Paul’s punchline, “So we aren’t broke up no more?”
There are funny moments in the film. Willis and Morgan are actually an agreeable screen duo. Willis appears to be endlessly amused by Morgan, and that colors the characters in a way the script never provides. One scene, featuring Willis playing the unhinged Morgan-esque character and Morgan playing Willis-style stoic, is standard fare for this sort of film, but the two look like they are genuinely having fun switching roles. That is actually key to the performances in the film.
Sean William Scott is actually pretty watchable, as well, tending to screw with people by wanting to learn about them or pulling the playground game of imitation. While a few too many scenes rely on the latter tactic for their humor, its initial appearance has a spark to it. For the most part, everyone appears to be having fun.
Well, except for the “Mexican” characters in the film. Stuck with stock scenes, standard dialogue, and obnoxious tattoos, they get the movie’s most thankless tasks. As Poh Boy, Guillermo Diaz is indistinguishable from the sort of broad Hispanic sterotype Dan Hedaya played in “Commando.” That may actually be a good thing for Diaz’s career going forward, since Hedaya is getting on in years and no longer plays those sorts of parts. Ana de la Reguera’s role hinges entirely on “language barrier” humor and never becomes much of anything. Her only halfway humorous contribution is her utter indignance at being stuck in the Mercedes for two days. The rest are typical khaki-wearing goons in bandanas, most of them with their heads shaved and the one requisite fat guy with a Fu Manchu.
“Cop Out” never decides what it wants to be. Is it a broad comedy parodying buddy cop movies? Is it an action movie with comedic elements? Is it a film about a straight-laced guy and his irresponsible friend? Is it a Kevin Smith movie? Without answering these questions, the film flounders at an uneasy pace while the actors grasp for moments of funny. What you get is a film that is more mediocre than truly awful, but in the world of Kevin Smith, mediocrity is the greatest sin of all.