A film review by Craig J. Koban March 2, 2010



2010, R, 110 mins.


Jimmy Monroe: Bruce Willis / Paul Hodges: Tracy Morgan / Dave: Seann William Scott / Hunsaker: Kevin Pollak / Barry: Adam Brody / Ava: Michelle Trachtenberg

Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Kevin Smith / Written by Robb and Mark Cullen

There are more hearty laughs to be had reading one of Kevin Smith’s potty mouthed Twitter rants against Southwest Airlines than there is during the entirety of COP OUT.   His hilariously scatological diatribes against the airline that recently booted him off of one of their planes due to his sizeable girth highlights his main asset as a filmmaker that is not on display his newest film:  The essence of why his most memorable efforts - like CLERKS, CLERKS 2, CHASING AMY, DOGMA, and even 2008’s ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO – work so well is because Smith's distinctive and fresh voice can be heard all through his characters.  By his own admission, Smith is, at best, a mediocre visualist as a filmmaker, which is what makes his participation in COP OUT all the more puzzling: This is the first time he has directed a script that was not is own, and it can be lamentably felt for 100-plus minutes. 

Words and character interplay are his true calling cards; he can make utter, soul crushing banality of Gen-X slackerdom appealingly off-beat and subversive (like, for example, one sharply written scene in CLERKS where its two go-nowhere twenty-somethings kill time by discussing the pros and cons of using contract labor to construct the Death Star in the first STAR WARS film).  I have always fashioned myself a champion of Smith’s intriguingly off-kilter – and uproariously and cheerfully vulgar – handling of his personas, which usually overrides his lack of polish or sophistication as a director.  Yet, the ultimate cop out of COP OUT is that Smith takes over one of the stalest and most regurgitated genres of the 1980’s (the buddy/cop film) and does absolutely nothing to slyly transcend it in any way.  Instead of shaken it up with the type of gusto and determined glee that only he could, Smith allows himself to be a slave to the painfully unfunny, unoriginal, and lackluster script (provided by Rob and Mark Cullen) that is utterly D.O.A. for laughs, intriguing action, and genuine interest.  It’s sad to see a ferociously droll and smart filmmaker like Smith get totally undermined by a screenplay that never once treks over new ground.  Smith’s robust personality and voice, as a result, are nowhere to be found here. 

And…really…isn’t yet another formulaic and perfunctory action comedy involving two police officers – one white, one black – trying to overcome all of their personal differences to crack the "big case" so horribly antiquated now?  This is a genre that, like, flourished and peaked twenty-five years ago, and the fact that Smith is not allowed to go in and retool the Cullen’s script about an interracial cop relationship battling it out against Mexican drug lords (sigh) is a crime in itself.  COP OUT certainly revels in a bit of hero worship of those classics of the past, like 48 HOURS, RUNNING SCARED, LETHAL WEAPON, and so forth, but Smith makes the unpardonable gamble of thinking that mimicry is the same as homage.  Repeating all of those tired and insipid clichés of oh-so-many buddy/cop films are best left forgotten in our collective memories, and Smith at times seems to have no clue about what to do with this material.  Is COP OUT a comedy, a semi-serious action thriller, a cheeky satire of the genre itself, or all of the above?  I don’t have the foggiest idea; this film is so schizophrenic that it needs its own shrink. 

The invention and mostly laugh-free script (which originally was much more humorously titled A COUPLE OF DICKS) is so lacking in chuckles that not even a phoned-in laugh track would find merriment in it.  We have the obligatory pairing of two opposites, detectives Jimmy Monroe (Bruce Willis, looking more than a bit confused and befuddled throughout) and Paul Hodges (Tracey Morgan, a brilliant comedian capable of being an absolute maestro of transcending weird hysterics, but mostly reduced to being an obnoxious blabbermouth here) have been partners for nine years, but still have their issues relating to one another.  

This is highlighted in the film’s only single hysterical scene, and opening segment featuring a interrogation where the hapless Paul tries to intimidate the detainee by reciting lines from various fictional movie characters, mostly of the cop variety (granted, he quotes films as far ranging as HEAT, ROBOCOP, DIRTY DANCING, and…uh…STAR WARS at one point).  If this scene were a short film, it would be a stand-alone howler, but the film never fully emerges from it, not to mention that, in hindsight, it feels curiously aloof from the tone rest of the film.  If COP OUT swung for the rafters and emerged as a balls-to-the-wall exercise in gratuitous silliness, then it could have worked.  Instead, it mournfully proceeds from one painfully dull, insipid, and uninspired scene to the next. 

Later in the film – after a particular bust goes south really fast – the pair is dragged into their boss’ office downtown and, yup, are suspended without pay.  Now, how many times have we seen this type of scene play out before?  Hundreds, I’d say, but Smith’s offbeat proclivities are completely vacant here; he just plays things on tedious autopilot.  And speaking of tedious autopilot, the rest of the script involving them – while working undercover and without police protection and involvement – trying to uncover the secrets of a vile Mexican drug ring never once generates any serious forward momentum.  This is exacerbated by two things: (a) the story takes too many odd detours (like a dumb subplot involving Jimmy's daughter, her new step dad, and a very expensive baseball card that Jimmy must sell to fund her wedding and (b) the “villains’ of the piece are the most outrageously preposterous and non-intimidating drug kingpins that I have encountered in a long time.  The main baddie (played by an annoyingly over-the-top Guillermo Diaz) is so cartoonish and silly that you never once feel him to be a palpably menacing antagonist. 

The film does have some amusing beats: the opening interrogation sequence, a few scant moments where Jimmy and Paul talk trash with a couple of colleagues (played by Kevin Pollack and Adam Brody) and I liked how Tracey Morgan (even though his performance is manically all over the map) at least tries to keep everything afloat with his child-like hysterics and wayward capriciousness.  Seann William Scott also shows up in what I think is the Joe Pesci “LETHAL WEAPON” role as the aggressively annoying sidekick that relishes the chance of getting under the skin of the two cops (granted, one would-be hilarious moment where he tries to tell a knock-knock joke has an inordinately exhaustive setup followed by the lamest of comedic payoffs).  Too much of COP OUT feels like it’s strutting and pandering to the most forgettable elements of the genre and, as a result, the giddy fun factor is all but AWOL. 

What’s worse is that the film reveals Smith’s largest self-imposed weakness: he is incapable of generating any visual interest in the proceedings.  He once famously stated that his directorial style is having "no style” and that his characters, their rat-ta-tat pop culture laced dialogue, and sharp performances are 90 per cent of what makes his best films what they are.  There are times when COP OUT looks borderline amateurish: the camera shots are static and without much panache, the editing is sluggish, and the pacing is meandering and scattershot.  This is the stuff of first time, barely-ready for silver screen filmmakers, not one that has already made nine films. 

What really turned me off big-time about COP OUT was Smith’s own half-hearted defense of the film itself: On Twitter he commented that this is “not my movie, [it’s] a movie that I was hired to direct.”  Smith has frequently revealed in many of his Q&A college tours that he is often unapologetically lured into a project for a fat pay check, not to mention that he has had no problem chastising past films that failed to live up their promises (MALLRATS, anyone?).  Yet, a hefty payday does not excuse a wretched, wrongheaded, terminally unfunny, woefully derivative, and instantly forgettable film like COP OUT, and Smith's notable street cred is above this kind of unpardonable mess

One final note: Smith also took shots against critics that have been recently – and rightfully - slamming COP OUT. “A movie like COP OUT, while an easy target for critics, is clearly not intended to impress those prone to show off their cinema erudition. Critics can stab at COP OUT with their poison pens all they want, but it still doesn't change the fact that it's a funny flick."  For a man that usually has his finger squarely on the pulse of what is actually funny, his comments here simultaneously reflects a stunning naiveté and shortsightedness on his part while showing him negating personal responsibility for making his single worst film of his typically solid comedic career.  

Cop out indeed, Mr. Smith.  

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