Buddy Bummer

A cranky Bruce Willis and a surprisingly tame mood ultimately bring down 'Cop Out'

Buddy-cop movies were far from high art when they dominated multiplexes in the '80s. They were brash, politically incorrect crap—and proud of it. Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop and, one of my personal faves, Tango and Cash were trash cinema, lush with violence, vulgarity and nudity.

After reading that director Kevin Smith would, in essence, be paying homage to this genre with his latest, Cop Out, I was hoping for some good, trashy fun, served up Smith style. Smith has proven himself to be a maestro of filth in the past, and he seems like the right guy to pilot a film with an '80s cop-genre feel.

Regrettably, the film almost feels afraid of the genre. For an R-rated tribute to the trash cinema of yesteryear, it feels like PG-13 fluff. There aren't nearly enough F-bombs; there's absolutely no nudity, and very little explosive blood. It's almost as if Smith didn't know which rating he was shooting for, which results in a tame, confused R rather than a hard-core R. This type of film cries for hard-core R.

One of the problems: Smith didn't write this movie; brothers Robb and Mark Cullen did. This is the first feature-length movie that Smith has directed off of another writer's script, and it's hard to be funnier than Kevin Smith. The Cullens don't even come close.

The Cullens provide the dopiest of plots. Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan star as longtime cop partners, and Willis' Jimmy Monroe needs to pay for the wedding of his daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg), so he decides to sell a rare baseball card. During the transaction, a smart-talking bandit (Seann William Scott) uses a stun gun on Jimmy and steals the card, which eventually winds up in the hands of an evil drug lord, the adorably named Poh Boy (Guillermo Díaz).

Jimmy and his wily partner, Paul (Morgan), after getting suspended, hunt for the card and try to take down the drug lord. While Morgan seems game for anything, Willis acts like somebody just stole his favorite baseball card. I realize this is what happens to his character in the movie, but his approach to the part feels all wrong. There's too much grouchy reality, and not enough fun.

I realize he's supposed to be the straight man, but Willis definitely gives off a vibe that he sort of regrets the whole undertaking, and his performance feels halfhearted. It's almost like he's paying homage to Nick Nolte's cranky character from 48 Hrs., but he forgets to have fun along the way, and refuses to interact. Also, if you need a character like crusty Nick Nolte, just cast Nick Nolte. That old crazy bastard is still alive, isn't he?

Admittedly, Morgan is an acquired taste. I, for one, love him on 30 Rock and think his stint on Saturday Night Live was largely genius. I'm pissed they made shit movies based on SNL characters like A Night at the Roxbury and It's Pat. They should've done big-screen treatments of Morgan's Brian Fellow and Astronaut Jones characters.

Morgan is in full baby-guy mode here, and it mostly works, although it grates at times. Again, the crotchety Willis sort of kills the party in nearly every scene he occupies. It's almost like Morgan is saying, "Come, on Bruce; come out and play with me!" and Willis just wants to take a nap.

Scott, essentially this film's equivalent of the Joe Pesci character in the Lethal Weapon films, provides some good laughs with Morgan. The film may have been a lot more fun had they cast Scott in the Willis role, and given Willis a cameo as a cranky hot dog vendor or pet-shop owner. As for cameos, Jason Lee has a good one as the stepdad to Jimmy's daughter, which essentially makes him Jimmy's nemesis. Again, I would've preferred Lee in the Willis role. Shit, I would've preferred Jason Mewes in the Willis role.

Smith has already proven he can do good stuff with other people's words and ideas. He directed the pilot for Reaper, which looked great and got many laughs, and set the stage for a decent TV show. And here, he's made a movie that looks and sounds great. Recruiting composer Harold Faltermeyer (Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun) for the score was a masterstroke, and longtime Smith collaborator David Klein shoots the movie nicely. Smith edited the film himself and did a decent job of cutting together the action scenes.

I know Smith can't be expected to make films riddled with F-bombs every time. But when you have your R-rating, and you are making a movie that winks at the buddy-cop genre, you should have at least 200 F-bombs in your film. I know it's not an upstanding gesture to request vulgarity, but come on, the situation calls for it.

This isn't to say Smith couldn't have made a decent PG-13 film out of this; it is to say that the film he winds up with isn't very funny and seems to be suffering from some sort of identity crisis.

Now that Warner Bros. knows Smith can deliver a decent opening weekend like he did with this product, they should give him a script worth his considerable talents. He's capable of big-time stuff, and Cop Out is a bit beneath him.

Cop Out is not showing in any theaters in the area.

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