In the realm of faceless people writing about movies from the safety of the internet, I like to think I’m one of the more reasonable you’ll find. But I could be wrong. (See?) It’s a point that’s come up before, but it bears repeating: Unlike most people who write about movies online, I’ve spent A LOT of time working in all corners of the film and television industries in virtually every position there is. I know well how hard people work, around the clock, to bring every show to an audience. I try not to take that hard-earned knowledge lightly. Besides, I have friends who still work in film and TV, and I’m not even all the way out myself. I try mighty hard not to put anything on a computer screen that I don’t feel ready to say to someone’s face. On top of all of that, I grew up with movies. I love this stuff as much now as I did when I was young — if not more. It doesn’t make me happy to be unkind. I’m in this to share my enthusiasm, plain and simple.
All of that said, and try as I might, it’s way harder to find new ways to be nice. It’s certainly harder to be funny that way. And sometimes, a movie is put in front of me about which I just can’t find much nice to say and still remain honest.
These are the movies that forced me to be unkind.
From July 20th, 2010:
Cop Out stumbles into stores on DVD today. In case you are still harboring any interest in spending your valuable time with one of the laziest, crappiest movies of the year, I urge you to do just about anything else. I hated being so mean about it, because I know how hard it is to get a movie made. Then again, I don’t think anyone involved tried all that hard at all, and I paid to see this one. So until I get my twelve bucks back, I reserve the right to complain.
Here’s my appraisal of this sorry mess:
Cop Out isn’t Kevin Smith’s worst movie, for those who are keeping track. His worst movie remains Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, that celebrity-studded, laugh-free, self-absorbed in-joke of a movie. Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back is about as funny as Scary Movie, or Epic Movie, or Disaster Movie, or any of those other lazy parody parades – but at least those other junkers tend to reference movies that most everyone has seen. Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back expects that you’ve seen low-budget critical favorites like Clerks and Chasing Amy, which could reasonably be considered to be an arrogant assumption on the part of its makers.
Cop Out isn’t quite as bad as that. Cop Out at least had the good sense to cast action-movie veteran Bruce Willis and comedy savant Tracy Morgan, rather than the line-mangling Jason Mewes and an endlessly mugging Kevin Smith (nepotism!), but in this case the improvement is only marginal. Bruce Willis looks drowsy, bored, and even a little sickly throughout the movie. He looks like he’s stuck on line at the bank, just waiting to pick up his paycheck, and some loud fat lady in front of him keeps making a lot of noise to the manager. Meanwhile, Tracy Morgan is that loud fat lady. He shouts every last one of his lines and shows very little of the self-awareness and charm that his fans (myself included) have come to expect.
Cop Out is a buddy-cop comedy, intended to have the charisma and care-free fun of the 1980s cop movies that made the genre so popular. Kevin Smith directed the movie, but he didn’t write it. That’s kind of like inviting Alex Rodriguez up to the mike to do stand-up comedy. Kevin Smith is a talented writer who very possibly could have come up with a fun buddy-cop story. What Kevin Smith does not have is the sense of visual stamina or momentum that the genre needs (nor does his longtime DP Dave Klein). What Kevin Smith could also have used is a sense of history – or do I really need to point out that the reason why those ‘80s cop flicks were so great is because they started with solid scripts and energetic participants? Always remember that 48 Hours was written by Walter Hill, that Lethal Weapon was written by Shane Black, that Fletch was written by Andrew Bergman (Blazing Saddles), that Beverly Hills Cop starred Eddie Murphy at the height of his comedic powers.
By contrast, Cop Out began life as a script by Robb & Mark Cullen, TV writers who may yet prove to be very talented but who surely haven’t done so on the basis of this evidence. It wouldn’t be fair to blame Kevin Smith for the awfulness of the story – the blame begins with the Cullen brothers, continues with whatever studio people thought this script was worth producing, and ends with Kevin Smith, who somehow thought it was worth making as the first film he has directed but didn’t write. Kevin Smith always struck me as a savvy guy – since when did he become the kind of cynic who is lazy enough to hang a movie on a plot where a cop causes remarkable havoc trying to get back a valuable baseball card from a Mexican gang, so that he can sell it and pay for his daughter’s wedding?
That is the actual plot of Cop Out, for the record. Bruce Willis drives up a significant body count trying to track down a baseball card. It’s the only way he can think of to pay for his kid’s wedding – which makes his character seem obnoxiously prideful, by the way, since her step-father was intending to pay for the wedding in the first place. Sure, the step-father is a bit of a prick, but he’s also played by Jason Lee, and if you’re a long-time Kevin Smith fan, like I have been, it’s tough to hate Jason Lee. (This wasn’t what I meant when I suggested that Smith work with Lee again.) In a convoluted turn of events, a Mexican gang comes into possession of the valuable collectible, so Bruce and Tracy (as his partner) have to go on the rampage. Since when does Brooklyn have Mexican gangs, you might ask? Hang on to that question, because just wait until I tell you how retarded Tracy’s subplot is.
Tracy Morgan, in this movie, is married to Rashida Jones, the adorably wry actress who’s most famous for her roles on The Office and Parks & Recreation. I have nothing but love both of these actors, really and truly, but still: There is no comedy on earth broad enough to convince me that Rashida Jones could ever fall for Tracy Morgan. So maybe it’s understandable that he spends the entire movie snooping around on her, convinced that she’s cheating on him with the next-door neighbor. What isn’t understandable is what this subplot is doing clogging up a cop comedy. We’re supposed to be taking our inspiration from ‘80s cop movies here, not ‘80s sitcoms. At least there’s a teddy bear with a camera in it; that’s what I was hoping to see when I bought my ticket.
Along the way, Bruce and Tracy cross paths with Seann William Scott as a parkour enthusiast who robs houses and craps in their bathrooms during the robberies. Seann William Scott can be terrific at driving comedy plots (see Role Models or American Wedding), but he is not terrific here, and that’s as nice as I can be about it. Bruce and Tracy also rescue a hostage along the way, a cute Mexican girl who doesn’t speak a word of English. Her one running joke is that she says “hi” a lot, and that she is the second woman in the movie who falls improbably in love with Tracy. This character does at least bring us to the movie’s one great jaw-droppingly racist scene, where the two cops need to know what she knows but they can’t take her to the precinct, so instead they take the girl to a Mexican restaurant for the maitre’d to provide translation.
There’s plenty more wrong with Cop Out. There’s the way it totally wastes great stand-up comedians like Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Susie Essman, and most egregiously, Jim Norton (who doesn’t even get in an attempt at a joke.) There’s the way it was just clever enough to hire composer Harold Faltermeyer (Fletch, Beverly Hills Cop), yet not clever enough to notice that his score, sadly, is atrocious – grating and relentless. There’s the way that Bruce and Tracy’s characters, supposed police veterans, have a weird habit of pulling loaded guns on unarmed suspects and civilians. (If you made a drinking game out of how many times this happens in the movie, you’d die.)
This movie was horrible, and not in a fun way. If you need to pay good money to see Tracy Morgan punch a ten-year-old kid in the nuts, this is your movie. But if you like laughing, it isn’t. (Admittedly, I did laugh one time, but at a reaction shot of Tracy Morgan at the climactic wedding – something I can see for free on 30 Rock, for the record.)
What makes Cop Out so depressing is that Kevin Smith was the one ultimately responsible for it, not some forgettable talentless director. Kevin Smith is so far from untalented, but you’d never know it if you were to watch Cop Out, a movie that is best described as sluggish, unfunny, and mean-spirited. He’s capable of so much more than this movie, but he settled for doing it, and that’s disappointing and sad. Let’s face it: The sun will rise and set on Kevin Smith regardless of what I think, but I wish that this time around he’d seriously listen to the people who didn’t like Cop Out, because many of them – myself included – used to be counted among his fans.
Come at me if you must, Kevin Smith army: @jonnyabomb
And now here’s a picture of Rashida Jones, just because it makes me feel a little better: