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Non-Review Review: Cop Out

Cop Out has a bit of a troubled history. Director Kevin Smith originally wanted to call it A Couple of Dicks (or even A Couple of D.I.C.’s – detectives in charge), but the studio wouldn’t let him. He had to fight tooth-and-nail to get the film out in its “R” rated format. When critics savaged the film, it prompted an aggressive response from the director. It’s his first film based on a screenplay he didn’t write. And, to be honest, it isn’t terrible. It’s just a shame that the film comes from a director capable of so much more.

Beached...

The plot essentially follows two detectives through a fairly linear “follow the leads” narrative which has them jumping through a number of formulaic hooks. It’s fairly straightforward and not necessarily charming, and seems to spend a great deal of time moving from “plot point A” to “plot point B” with one or two random instances in between. It’s not rocket science and it’s hardly carried out with any particular flair. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable or unfair to suggest that Smith has never really been particularly great at offering plot-driven films.

Smith’s area of expertise has always been his sort of organic naturalism. Sure his characters speak in incredible eloquent monologues, but they articulate feelings that we all have and voice those weird questions that have occurred to us at certain points but never would have dared put on screen. Clerks and Clerks II were the stories of two guys doing nothing. Chasing Amy was a brutally honest romantic comedy, but nothing really happened during it – it was driven by character moments and insight. Dogma was at its best when the characters were just sitting around chatting rather than actually doing stuff. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back just about hangs together as a road movie because it seems to be almost stream-of-consciousness. His character work is great – it just feels right. He can get people in all their flawed glory and throw them up on screen.

Unfortunately, Cop Out is not a character piece. Instead of the more interesting smart-ass characters that Smith gives us – characters whose smarmy attitude masks hidden levels of complexity – these are just shallow two-dimensional cutouts. A mob boss has an interest in baseball – which is a quirk – but it serves to give him a couple of gimmicks instead of offering us a hint of personality. One could imagine that in a stronger Smith film the character might have explained how baseball is somehow like his line of work, throwing in some crude sexual metaphors and – hey presto! It’s a decently-formed character! Instead, we get a guy who tortures people buy whacking them with baseballs.

Smith has always flirted with pop culture – sometimes with fantastic results, like with the racial reading of Star Wars suggested in Chasing Amy (“what’s a Nubian?”) – but here the references are incredibly shallow and don’t demonstrate any particular understanding of the material. Instead, the movie just repeats quotes and snippets back to you in “homage”. It’s meant to be hilarious, but is frequently irritating (save for a moment when a cop played by Bruce Willis can’t recognise where his partner got the line “Yippie Ki-yay” from). This perhaps cuts to the heart of the problem: this is just a generic cop comedy that happens to be directed by Smith, rather than a film crafted by him.

Phoning it in?

The movie is essentially a buddy comedy film and seems like exactly the sort of film that could have been made in the eighties (in fact, I’m thinking of Tango & Cash, and that’s not a good thing). It doesn’t seem to be a homage, but rather a direct replication of a middle-of-the-road cop movie, which is disappointing – like The Expendables, it ends up being measured against our nostalgic recollections of that era rather than being compared to the actual output. The funky soundtrack is incredibly irritating – again, sounding like something lifted from a generic buddy cop movie from the eighties.

Smith invests a lot of faith in his two lead actors. While Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis are both highly skilled performers, there really is only so much that they can do with the material they’re given – they don’t seem to work particularly well together as a comedic duo, with Morgan’s more “in your face” humour seeming to come into conflict with Willis’ more “carefully subdued” brand of comedy. It doesn’t help that they aren’t so much playing characters as walking clichés, with Willis’ character the potentially failed father seeking redemption from his child and Morgan’s copper the insecure husband worried about his wife’s fidelity.

That said, there’s the odd moment of Smith genius which works its way in. For example, the paranoid fantasy set to Rhythm is a Dancer, complete with monocle. Sadly these moments of inspiration are few and far between. There are a moderate amount of laughs to be found in the film, but there’s nothing too special that will stay with you too long.

It’s an okay buddy cop film, nothing more. Which is a shame, given its pedigree. It isn’t a horrible failure of a film, but it’s certainly not anything to get particularly excited about. Given we were promised a Kevin Smith buddy cop movie, the title feels oddly apt.

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2 Responses

  1. Overall a disappointing romp filled with vulgar humor, bad language, and cheesy plot points, this movie is not worth your time. I was terribly disappointed that Kevin Smith would actually go this low, but hey, not everything is always going to be good. Nice review, check out mine when you can!

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