It makes sense that the man who directed such iconic films as “Clerks” and “Dogma”—which constantly reference movies from the 1980s—would be behind the lens on “Cop Out,” a throwback tribute to the buddy cop movies of the same era.
What doesn’t make sense is that “Cop Out” is completely devoid of the inspired and singularly personal vision that gave those films their charm in the first place.
Kevin Smith has always been known for mixing the profane with the tender, and on the surface, “Cop Out” does that. But—and here is why the movie is such a profound disappointment—it’s really, really only on the surface.
In fact, there is nothing else to this movie. I’d like to do a plot summary here with bits about two longtime New York detective partners who keep breaking the rules and a hard-ass sergeant coming down hard on them (that sentence is for you, Kevin), but that would be admitting that its convincing in any way whatsoever. It’s a movie that puts Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan together as in plot, but never once is it believable in actual story that these two could ever give a shit about each other.
Willis maintains a steely calm throughout the picture but at times actually looks annoyed at his own situation. Time and time again, he (as the smooth-talking experienced cop) and Morgan (as the crybaby manchild, a character type Smith used to know well) are put in scenes that require them to elevate a lame gag into something funny, and every so often they succeed. Most of the time, however, the laugh they’ve gotten is that uncomfortable one that you finally utter out of desperation after waiting for something funny to happen.
Audiences can tell when a scene is supposed to be funny. They know when a payoff is coming, even if the acting and editing are as sloppy as they are here. You can’t say that this wasn’t arrived at without any lack of trying on Smith’s part—he throws in a whole interrogation scene of movie quotes and a synth pop score from Harold Faltermeyer of “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Fletch” fame—but his pop culture references just aren’t enough to keep “Cop Out” from being just that.
He is hampered by many other things, the first being a thinly written, coincidence-laden, not-too-clever script by Marc and Robb Cullen. It actually seems more like an outline than a script because the only funny business that works (one scene featuring a hopped-up Seann William Scott as a crybaby manchild reverted back even further than Morgan) seems like it was completely improvised.
There’s no reason to expect action scenes to be Smith’s forte, but the few that populate the picture fizzle out before they really even get going.
Last but not least, it’s hard to mount a successful film when your heroes aren’t the least bit believable, but even harder when your bad guys (a Mexican drug-running gang) are 10 times worse. Struggling to maintain any sort of tension between strained comedy and what is supposed to be drama, Smith tries to imbue his baby-faced villains with evil energy a la sinister keyboard tones from Faltermeyer. It doesn’t work. His actors (mainly Guillermo Diaz as the leader) feel as if they’re playing dress up.
In the perfectly realized “Hot Fuzz,” directed by Edgar Wright and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the buddy cop genre is lovingly parodied and tributed at the same time. Through a series of fittingly stylized montages and the subtle subversion of action film archetypes, Wright directed a funny and touching love letter to the freewheeling, wholly American genre and even managed to set it in uptight England.
It’s a shame that Smith couldn’t pull off the same thing. “Cop Out” is a real dud. It’s essentially a cheap knockoff of a genre that requires a certain amount of slickness that Smith isn’t able to provide. Amazingly, it also possesses little of the sloppy charm of his earlier films and none of the personal passion that made them so unique.