A film review by Craig J. Koban August 22, 2014 


2014, R, 104 mins.


Jake Johnson as Ryan Davis  /  Damon Wayans, Jr. as Justin Chang  /  Nina Dobrev as Josie  /  Rob Riggle as Officer Segars  /  James D'Arcy as Porter  /  Keegan Michael Key as Pupa  /  Andy Garcia as Brolin  /  Jonathan Lajoie as Todd Connors

Written and directed by Luke Greenfield

LET’S BE COPS has a premise that is preposterous and never once feels credible on any level whatsoever.  It’s the kind of film that seems to take place in some kind of beyond-obvious fictional fantasyland where rules, regulations, and, most importantly, consequences for ill-conceived actions barely exist.  

Yet, LET’S BE COPS is a frequently hysterical buddy comedy that gets by considerably on the effortless comedic charm of its two main actors.  There’s kind of a breezy and recklessly freewheeling spirit of rampant tomfoolery and chaos that permeates this film, and even though it never occupies a normal plane of existence, this is a comedy that scores plenty of laughs when it needs to.   

As for the central story itself?  It’s pure nonsensical make-believe…but, again, it’s mostly funny pure nonsensical make-believe.  LET’S BE COPS concerns the thirtysomething dilemmas of a pair of Ohio-born, L.A. residing bromates, Justin (Damon Wayans, Jr., a spitting image of his papa), and Ryan (Jake Johnson) that once made a mutual vow to each other that if they didn’t “make it” in Californian by the time they hit the big 3-0 that they would cash in their chips and return to Ohio.  Ryan is a failed actor (his claim to fame is appearing in a rather embarrassing commercial for an STD medication), but before that he was also a failed athlete that made a stupid decision that caused an injury that, in turn, destroyed his promising football career.  Justin is faring no better: he has great aspirations to become a virtuoso video game designer, but his latest cop-centric game that he designed does not hit it off well with his douchebag boss, who vetoes its production so he can make a game about – ahem – firefighters battling zombies. 



Completely dejected, Justin and Ryan decide to cheer themselves up by attending a local college reunion costume party…at least they think it’s a costume party (it’s actually a masquerade party), but they take the cop uniforms that Justin was using as props for his video game presentation at work and go in costume anyway.  After suffering from more humiliations at the party, the hapless pair stumble on to the streets of L.A….and then notice something: seemingly everyone around them thinks that they are actually cops (once unattainable women in particular seem to be really attracted to them now).  Even better is that they seem to have power and authority over those they never otherwise would have.  Sensing the freedom and jubilation of their newfound faux cop powers, Justin and Ryan partake in a night of risky frivolity and merriment. 

Justin thinks their illegal activities were just a one-night thing.  Ryan thinks otherwise, as he begins to meticulous study police enforcement techniques on, yes, YouTube and even goes out of his way to purchase a squad car on eBay to further help sell the illusion that he and his BFF are real 5-0.  Of course, Justin thinks that his buddy has gone a bit cuckoo, but he has grown tired of his zero status and begrudgingly decides to tag along in more nocturnal fun as phony police officers.  Granted, the duo finds themselves getting a bit too deep and in over the heads when they become embroiled in a real and potentially dangerous case involving a homicidal gang leader (James D’ Arcy) that wants to take over a local restaurant as part of an elaborate plan to extend his vile reach in the city.  The restaurant also just happens to have an easy-on-the-eyes waitress (Nina Dorbev) that has eyes for Justin, which complicates matters for him considerably.  Things really get dicey when Justin and Ryan are befriended by a real cop (Rob Riggle) – who has no idea of their true identities – and, through Ryan’s own crackerjack detective work, discovers that something is not right with a higher up at the police department (Andy Garcia). 

LET’S BE COPS exists, to be fair, as a performance highlight reel for stars Johnson and Wayans (both of whom are score big guffaws weekly on TV’s NEW GIRL) and here they have a sort of nice, unforced comedic energy, timing, and chemistry that shows their skills at spontaneous interplay…even during the most outlandish of situations.  They're both effective foils to the other: Ryan is the hot-headed man-child with something to prove – albeit, using incredibly illegal means to do so – and Justin is the shy, introverted, and uncertain of himself loser that acts as a hilarious moral compass while tagging around with his friend.  I guess that LET’S BE COPS is on a solid foundation when it simply let’s these two performers work off of one another, and their odd-couple rapport helps keep the film from capsizing in on itself.   

Even when the film wallows into some extremely puerile bodily humor – an extended sequence featuring Justin having a close encounter with a grotesquely fat perp's genitals after a failed arrest attempt seems distractingly foul – there are ample moments built around scenes like these that revel in the sheer insanity of what Justin and Ryan are doing.  There’s an inspired moment when the pair try to deal with a domestic disturbance between some highly dysfunctional female friends, during which time Justin fails at every turn to get the verbal upper hand (when he asks one of the crazed frat girls what her name is, she honestly replies “Precious,” to which he amusingly and naively retorts, “Not your gang name or your stripper name…your real name.”).  There’s a very funny moment in the film that has Justin going undercover to infiltrate the gang leader’s hideout; he is forced to take crystal meth as to not blow his cover, which has unsurprising – but uproarious – results. 

The film does get some solid laughs from the supporting players as well, especially with Keegan Michael Key that shows up as a drug dealer that Justin and Ryan are too insipid to interrogate properly…so he decides to just hang out with them and become friends on their mission to bring the main criminal mastermind down.  LET’S BE COPS is confused on a tonal level, though, throughout.  Johnson and Wayans play their roles up for the farcical undertones of the film, but other actors like D’Arcy and Garcia play their parts like they just stepped outside of a Michael Mann crime drama.  The love story between Justin and Dobrev’s restaurant waitress is on pure autopilot, not to mention the final act of the film, which culminates in a climatic showdown between all parties that feels like it belongs in a more solemn minded action film than a brainless comedy about adults engaging in juvenile buffoonery.   

Yet, why do I like and recommend this film?  I’m almost feeling like I shouldn’t be.  The job of the critic, alas, is to relay what the film is trying to do and whether it succeeds in doing just that.  LET’S BE COPS is a silly and madcap engine to make us laugh, and with the easily likeable pairing of Johnson and Wayans at the helm…laughs do come aplenty at the expense of their oftentimes-grotesque stupidity.  The film kind of reminded me of the type of enjoyably disposable screwball/slapstick comedies that Don Knotts and Tim Conway did in their prime.  No, I’m not comparing Johnson and Wayans to Knotts and Conway, but LET’S BE COPS celebrates the infectious goofiness of its dysfunctionally droll characters in the same manner as those old Knotts/Conway flicks.   Granted, neither Knotts nor Conway had to ever play a scene opposite of a hairy exposed scrotum being shoved in their faces to get a cheap laugh.  They had other means. 

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