by R.L. Shaffer
Cop Out wants to be Beverly Hills Cop in the worst way. The producers followed the formula (with a dash of Lethal Weapon). They brought on a rising black comedian as the star (Tracy Morgan). Paired him with a hard-ass detective (Bruce Willis). And gave him a mystery filled with drug lords, action, intrigue, and goofy set pieces. Director Kevin Smith (Clerks II) even brought on composer Harold Faltermeyer, who's electronic beats in Beverly Hills Cop earned him recognition in the form of several prestigious awards, not to mention a stream of steady work throughout the 80s. But Cop Out is not Beverly Hills Cop. Rather, it's Beverly Hills Cop III -- a misguided, painfully mundane, unfunny, dreary reflection of a much better film.
Originally titled A Couple of Dicks -- a title that fits the tone of the characters much better -- Cop Out is trying to be at throwback to the good old fashioned buddy cop movies of the 80s, but it's more akin to the miserable '90s buddy cop dreck that drove the genre straight down the drain and right to the bottom shelf of the your local video store (think films like Bulletproof, National Security or Blue Streak). The ideas feel washed up. The characters are cut so thin they barely make sense (and they're not particularly likable, either). And the fun feels forced -- a series of hit-and-miss sketches, most featuring the love-it or hate-it stylings of funnyman Morgan -- strewn throughout a narrative tied together entirely by sheer coincidence. In other words, Cop Out is awful. Painfully awful.
Since the picture's theatrical (and Red Band) trailers do a terrible job setting this ridiculous story up, here's a token bit about the plot. Two long-time detectives, Jimmy and Paul (Willis and Morgan), are suspended after accidentally getting their CI killed, and botching a long drawn-out case two other detectives (Adam Brody and Kevin Pollack) were working on. Since Jimmy is trying to pay for the lavish wedding of his daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg), he decides not to tell his daughter, or his ex-wife and her snooty new husband (Jason Lee). Same goes for Paul, who's already on thin ice with his wife (the sexy, but sorely underused Rashida Jones) after suspecting her of cheating on him. The next day, Jimmy and Paul get together as though nothing is wrong. They head down to a small hobby shop where Jimmy plans on selling an old baseball card. The place gets robbed and Jimmy's card is stolen. Knowing that this card is the key to paying for his daughters wedding, the two suspended cops attempt to track down the thief played by Sean William Scott (the film's best asset even if he is basically playing the same character from The Rundown).
They manage to locate him through a few illegal maneuvers, and low and behold, this thief answers to the man responsible for killing their CI, a drug lord named Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz, who apparently didn't get the memo that the film WAS NOT a plucky spoof). Poh Boy also happens to be an avid collector of baseball paraphernalia, and he's hold Jimmy's card prisoner. How quaint. Now it's up to Jimmy and Paul to stop the bad guy, save the girl (I won't even bother to go into this, it's way too convoluted for a simple summation), save Paul's marriage and get Jimmy's baseball card back.
In short, it feels like a 12-year old wrote Cop Out. The story is asinine, oddly bypassing the "origin" story formula, and heading straight for the lazy sequel. The script is filled with holes in logic and crafted around two unlikable heroes who share very little chemistry together. Just about every rule and law known to man is broken by this un-dynamic duo, too. It's shocking this script was once listed as one of Hollywood's best unproduced scripts. Makes you wonder what other garbage is floating around Tinseltown. Anchored by Smith's amateur, unfocused, and frankly, immature direction, the film feels like an imitation rather than an homage. Smith seems to have no idea how to craft his narrative into something of substance -- how to give context to his story and characters while shaping his homage. Even Faltermeyer's score is misguided, placed in scenes that don't require music.
How this typically solid filmmaker failed so miserably here is puzzling. Perhaps the absence of Smith's long-time friend and producing partner Scott Mosier is the key to this film's misguided story and execution? But I'm sure Cop Out will have it's fans. Lovers of Morgan's 30 Rock character Tracy Jordan will inevitably chew up his silly one-liners and slapstick gags, even if Morgan is stunningly overused in the film. And those drawn to low-brow, low-grade humor will find the film's potty-flavored gags an absolute gas. But if you're looking for a well written, fresh and funny throwback to classic buddy cop movies, well, look elsewhere. This isn't a throwback, it's a bad imitation -- something that belongs on the DTV market. Nothing more. Nothing less.