THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
The only noteworthy thing about Cop Out is that it was directed by Kevin Smith, and that's the very thing that makes it so disappointing. For about 15 years now, Smith has made a series of smart, insightful independent films that, while not exactly box office blockbusters, have garnered good reviews and earned him the kind of fan loyalty most directors can only dream of. Despite this, he apparently felt the need to prove that he could make a mainstream, commercial film. As a hardcore fan of his work, I don't begrudge the guy his desire to expand his audience. The problem, though, is that Smith didn't write this screenplay, so the material he's chosen to work with is significantly weaker than his own. As a result, Cop Out is the first movie he's made (and this includes Jersey Girl) that didn't work for me.
Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan play Jimmy and Paul, two NYC cops with unorthodox methods. Paul, for instance, interrogates subjects by quoting lines of dialogue from famous movies. Both men have their personal problems. Paul thinks his wife (Rashida Jones) is cheating on him, while Jimmy has to find a way to earn $48,000 to pay for his daughter's dream wedding. His solution is to sell an ultra-rare baseball card; unfortunately, it's stolen from him just as he arrives at a memorabilia shop. The cops begin searching for the card, and the trail leads them to a Latino gangster known as Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz).
That's a promising set-up, but unfortunately Cop Out makes a pointless detour, having Jimmy and Paul help a young woman who has been kidnapped by Poh Boy. The baseball card plot gets lost in this, although we do get to see the cops encounter several eccentric characters, including an angry mother (Susie Essman from "Curb Your Enthusiasm") and a parkour-performing thief (Seann William Scott).
Cop Out, written by Robb and Mark Cullen, is intended as an homage to all the beloved entries in the cop-comedy genre, and Smith has specifically stated his desire to bring to it the kind of feel that 80's pictures like Beverly Hills Cop and Fletch had. (Well, Fletch was a reporter, but so what?) He's even gone so far as to commission an original score from synth-master Harold Faltermeyer, who provided the music for those pictures. As I said, I'm a big Kevin Smith fan, and an even bigger fan of the movies he's trying to emulate. That said, such little touches are not enough to put Cop Out in that class.
That's because it simply isn't funny enough. Beverly Hills Cop and Fletch were funny throughout; they earned laughs from start to finish, while still having coherent plots. In contrast, this movie is only sporadically funny. Some things did make me laugh, and a few even made me laugh loudly (Seann William Scott steals the show with his hilariously annoying criminal, for instance). What I didn't do was laugh consistently. About every 15 or 20 minutes, there'd be something amusing - a Tracy Morgan wisecrack, a sight gag, whatever - but then there'd be a long stretch where the jokes fell flat.
It's not for lack of trying. Smith has apparently adopted the "let's try a hundred different variations on one line of dialogue" approach favored by Judd Apatow. But whereas Apatow knows to pick and use the best one, Smith tends to string them together. This means that Tracy Morgan (as humorous as he is here) often seems to go on tangents where he says the same thing a bunch of different ways. More, in this case, doesn't mean funnier; it means repetitious.
The plot meanders all over the place, never really making a whole lot of sense, so there's precious little to hold our interest between those moments that do come to life. It's too bad because a modern-day homage to the classic cop comedies and buddy movies is a great idea. Everyone is certainly game. Willis and Morgan are solid, the supporting cast is terrific, and Smith manages a few pull off a few of his trademark witty dialogue-driven scenes. Everyone works to inject energy into the movie; at times, they even pull it off.
I was really hoping that Smith would mix all his 80's inspirations together and come up with something new - kind of like the way Quentin Tarantino mashes up all his 70's exploitation influences into something original. That doesn't happen. Cop Out, had it been directed by anyone else, would be immediately dismissible. There's no doubt Smith is smart and perceptive enough to have made this idea work; however, he's stuck with a weak screenplay that could have used a re-write from his own pen. I really, really wanted to love Cop Out, but it just didn't hit the mark often enough.
( out of four)
Cop Out will be released on movie-only DVD and a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack on July 20. The Blu-Ray comes stocked with special features.
Here's a question: is it possible for me to recommend a movie on Blu-Ray when I steadfastly did not recommend it in theaters? I ask this because the Cop Out Blu-Ray is far more entertaining than the film itself. Warner Home Video is releasing the movie in "Maximum Comedy Mode," a variation on the "Maximum Movie Mode" used by Zack Snyder on the Watchmen disc. Whether or not Cop Out deserves such fancy treatment is debatable, but I will say that the end result is surprisingly pleasing.
Maximum Comedy Mode is kind of like getting all your bonus features wrapped up in one. Kevin Smith appears as your on-camera host. At times, he simply lets the film run and provides traditional audio commentary. Periodically, he'll pause the film to show you a deleted scene where it would have occurred had it not been cut. Other times, you're treated to unused ad-libs and improvisations. To illustrate a few key points (such as how certain scenes were moved around during the editing process), Smith fast-forwards or rewinds the action, before bringing you back to where you left off. In one instance, he even admits that a chunk of the film bores him, and he skips right over it. (So much for his "Cop Out is beyond critical reproach" Twitter tantrum earlier this year, but whatever.) Little factoids about the production pop up during some scenes. Then there's Seann William Scott, who walks on from time to time to offer anecdotes about filming. Scott also appears in character for short faux-inspiration segments called "Wisdom from the Shit Bandit."
This way of watching the movie works for several reasons: 1.) While Cop Out is not particularly funny, Kevin Smith and Seann William Scott are; 2.) Much of the stuff that didn't make the final cut is a hell of a lot funnier than the stuff that did; and 3.) It's actually pretty informative when it comes to showing how the picture was assembled, even if the end result didn't turn out to be all that good. Maximum Comedy Mode also helped me pinpoint why Cop Out was such a disappointment for me. Kevin Smith traditionally makes very tightly scripted comedies. For this movie, he decided to adopt the heavy-on-the-improv style that Judd Apatow famously uses, but he did so at the expense of keeping the plot coherent. I know this last thing sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it's refreshing to see DVD bonus features that actually help you understand what went wrong. Film students could adopt the disc as a learning tool.
Also on the Blu-Ray are a series of nine "Focus Points" which can be accessed within Maximum Comedy Mode or independently. These bite-sized segments focus on specific production details. "Cop Out a.k.a. A Couple of Dicks" looks at the movie's much-discussed title change. "The New Buddy Cop Duo" focuses on the chemistry between Willis and Morgan. "Kevin Pollak - Man of a Thousand Voices and Interests" offers hilarious behind-the-scenes footage of the actor delivering his dialogue in the voices of Christopher Walken and Peter Falk. The heavy use of ad-libbing gets examined in "Improvising - Now That's Funny," while "Stunts Brooklyn Style" details Smith's first use of actual action in one of his pictures. Actor Guillermo Diaz shows us around his character's abode in "Poh Boy's Diamond Vault." The remaining Focus Points are "Tracy Morgan Speaks Spanglish," which is comprised of the actor ad-libbing non-existent Spanish words in a scene with a costar, and "Dave's Calling Card," which…well, he's called the Shit Bandit for a reason. Last but not least is "Kevin Smith Directs," in which cast members gush over their director. Each Focus Point lasts between 1 and 5 minutes; all are amusing and well-produced.
Cop Out remains, to me, a movie far, far better in premise than in execution. The Blu-Ray, on the other hand, is generally pretty awesome. The bonus material has been conceived in way that is really clever. Slog through the flick simply so you can enjoy the real show.
Cop Out is rated R for pervasive language including sexual references, violence and brief sexuality. The running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.