Cop OutReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/26/10 00:00:00
Considering the fact that he is more or less a brand name to a certain chunk of the moviegoing population thanks to his books, toys, personal appearances, podcasts, airline-based tweets and even the occasional movie, I found it a bit strange that the trailers and commercials for Kevin Smith’s latest film, the action-comedy “Cop Out” made absolutely no mention of his participation. Now that I have actually seen the film, the decision to play down his name makes a lot more sense because if I were him, I would want to put as much distance between myself and this monstrosity as humanly possibleThe film stars Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan as Jimmy Monroe and Paul Hodges, a pair of New York City cops who are so crazy and hotheaded that the inevitable scene in which they are suspended without pay for blowing a big bust and forced to hand over their guns and badges comes up here before the end of the first reel. For Jimmy, the suspension comes at a bad time because he needs $48,000 to pay for his daughter’s wedding to prevent her jerky stepfather (Jason Lee) from stepping in to save the day. This requires him to sell off an exceptionally rare Andy Pafko baseball card but while attempting to do this, the card is stolen by twitchy thief Dave (Seann William Scott) and traded to memorabilia-obsessed drug lord Po’ Boy (Gullermo Diaz) for drugs. When Jimmy and Paul go to retrieve the card from Po’ Boy, he makes them an offer that they can’t refuse if they want the film to continue--a Mercedes of his with “great sentimental value” has been stolen and if they can find it for him, he will give back the card. Of course, there is a little more to it than that--the “sentimental value” turns out to be a trunk containing a beautiful Mexican woman (Ana de la Reguera) who possess all sorts of valuable drug dealer information. Adding to our heroes troubles are their professional conflicts with a pair of laconic and by-the-book fellow cops (Kevin Pollack and Adam Brody) and Paul’s personal problems involving his suspicions that his wife (Rashida Jones) is having an affair with the next door neighbor. Somehow, all of these plot developments are more or less resolved in a finale in which the good guys get all the quips and the bad guys all get shot in the head.
Obviously, “Cop Out” is inspired by any number of violent action movies made over the years in which bullets and banter are doled out in equal numbers, including such classics of the form as “Freebie and the Bean” and “Lethal Weapon” and there are essentially two ways to approach such material--either give it an ironic or satiric twist as was done with the brilliant “Hot Fuzz” or play it in a more straightforward manner along the lines of the equally inspired “Pineapple Express.” In the first and easily the best scene of the film (which isn‘t saying much), in which Paul attempts to interrogate a suspect using nothing but lines cribbed from old movies of varying degrees of appropriateness, it seems as if screenwriters Robb Cullen & Mark Cullen are going to take the first approach but they quickly abandon it for the more straightforward take in which we are meant to actually be involved with the story and the characters instead of regarding both with ironic distance. Unfortunately, the script that they have come up with is so weak and derivative that if doesn’t even live up (or down) to the standards of a genre not exactly known for its wit, cleverness or creativity. Our heroes are unlikable and uninteresting (and matters aren’t helped by the fact that they are played, respectively, by someone who plainly looks bored and someone who is best experienced in short doses on “30 Rock”), the bad guys are standard-issue evil Hispanics lacking even the slightest degree of personality, the allegedly quirky supporting characters are anything but (Seann William Scott is so irritating that you flinch every time he comes on screen and Rashida Jones is given such an insultingly throwaway part that wonder why Smith even bothered to cast her in the first place), the jokes are puerile at best and rarely that good (the highest level of comedic invention on display here comes when a little kid punches one of our heroes in the groin and he responds in kind) and the action scenes are the kind of by-the-numbers brutality that seems to think that if one odd element is added into the mix--such as having someone chasing down a suspect while dressed as a cell phone--everything else can be as boring and predictable as possible.
As for the plot. . .oh dear Lord, the plot. Okay, if you are familiar with films of this type, then you may have heard of something called “the MacGuffin. For those of you not in the know, the MacGuffin is a term coined by Alfred Hitchcock to describe the item that everyone in the movie is looking for but whose real purpose is to keep the story moving along and to give viewers something to focus on so that they don’t notice the machinations of the screenplay. Most movies require only one MacGuffin to maintain interest in the story but in what can only be seen as a sign of sheer desperation in a film filled with them, “Cop Out” utilizes at least four of them throughout and the only notable thing about them is that they grow less and less interesting as things progress. Beyond that, there is nothing on display here that couldn’t be found in the average direct-to-video cop movie and even then, the end result is so lame that if this film had been made by the people responsible for such cut-rate epics, even they might have demanded a rewrite or two in the hopes of improving things a bit.
In making “Cop Out,” Smith is trying to pull off a couple of things that he has never attempted before as a filmmaker--working from a screenplay that he did not write himself and working in an unfamiliar genre within the confines of a typical big-budget studio project. Although Smith deserves some degree of credit for being willing to move outside of his comfort zone as an artist, all that he wind up demonstrating here is that he should never again try to attempt such things. For one thing, it is pretty much a given that Smith’s strengths as a filmmaker lean more towards his abilities as a screenwriter, where he is perfectly adept at creating unique and endlessly fascinating dialogue that is as funny, thoughtful and distinctive as anyone else working today, but that voice of his is nowhere to be found outside of a couple of “Star Wars” references--this screenplay is the kind of Hollywood hackwork that he frequently and hilariously excoriates in his commentaries on the film industry and it is impossible to discern what could have possibly inspired him to choose to make it. For another thing, it becomes painfully obvious right from the start that Smith, whose films generally consist of scenes involving a few people talking that are shot in the most direct and straightforward manner possible, has absolutely no affinity for the type of high-octane filmmaking style that a film of this type usually requires. Instead of figuring out a way of fusing genre requirements with his own unique sensibilities, as David Gordon Green did so wonderfully in “Pineapple Express,” Smith presents us with perhaps the most indifferently staged and poorly executed action sequences collected in any one movie in recent memory not made by Uwe Boll and even the dialogue-heavy scenes that would seem to be more in his strike zone aren’t very good either. In the last few years, Smith has made moves about doing larger-scale films (he was signed on to do adaptations of “The Green Hornet” and “Fletch” before they fell through) but based on the results seen here, his competency level suggest that if he could somehow travel back in time about 25 years or so, he might have the skills to make cheesy craptacular for the late and lamented Cannon Films, but only if the likes of Sidney J. Furie and Albert Pyun were otherwise unavailable.Aside from one or two amusing lines here and there, “Cop Out” is such a stupid and soulless bomb that you half-expect to see Bruce Willis rassling a polar bear and the appearance of a giant mechanical spider in the third act. This isn’t just an ordinary bad movie, the kind that even the best filmmakers occasionally inflict on audiences from time to time--this is the kind of all-out disaster that leaves viewers sitting slack-jawed in their seats wondering how such a stupid and shabby thing could have possibly occurred under the guidance of the same person who gave us such smart, funny and perceptive films as “Clerks,” “Chasing Amy” and “Dogma.” Hopefully, this will just turn out to be a bizarre aberration in an otherwise impressive career and, aside from replacing “Mallrats” and “Jersey Girl” as the whipping boy for his self-deprecating pod casts and stand-up performances, it will quickly and completely be forgotten before too long.
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