Cop Out - Film Review

Posted on 26. Feb, 2010 by in Film/TV

by Todd Gilchrist

After spending almost two decades giving Kevin Smith the benefit of the doubt, it’s hard to refute the seemingly obvious truth that he just isn’t a good director. Not only is he not much of a visual stylist, he doesn’t have any flair for storytelling, and almost none of his films have any real dramatic momentum. That said, he occasionally has a gift for good dialogue, when he isn’t making mud pies out of poop jokes and pop culture references.

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Bruce Willis and Director Kevin Smith

His new film, Cop Out, is not well made. It’s not well directed or written. It does, however, star Tracy Morgan, an actor whose on screen persona and off screen personality seem uncomfortably similar, which makes his manic, unpredictable behavior seem weird, and occasionally wonderful. Also, it features Bruce Willis, who’s done both good and bad cop roles so many times he could sleepwalk through another one, much like it looks like he’s doing here. But Smith’s latest is in fact his best in a while, because it abandons the pretense of personal vision in favor of superficial fun, paying homage to ‘80s buddy cop movies and every other kind of movie without being much of one itself. Which is fine, but the biggest point is to not look too closely, because what works about it is so much simpler than what people seem
to think doesn’t.

First of all, I have colleagues who actively hate this movie. Fair enough. But there are others who were confused by it, and that just confused me. After a recent press screening, they asked in earnest if Smith meant to make the score sound like a “bad ‘80s cop movie score” (their words, not mine). Okay, maybe they don’t know that Harold Faltermeyer is the guy who did the music for Fletch, Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun among many other ‘80s movies. But honestly, has any movie Smith made before been deserving of any level of deeper introspection? Rife with subtext? No. We’re not talking about Paul Thomas Anderson here, whose Magnolia was lampooned in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. It should be safe to assume that Smith did indeed mean to make the film sound like an ‘80s cop movie. In my opinion, a good one.

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Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis in Cop Out

As for what it’s actually about, it has something to do with two doofus cops played by Morgan and Willis on the trail of a Mexican gang leader who got his hands on Willis’ character’s prized baseball card. Amazingly, the film wasn’t actually written by Smith, although you can bet that its myriad movie references were funneled into the scenes by the director’s indefatigable film knowledge. What wasn’t funneled into any part of the film, however, was energy. Even the slightest momentum to carry viewers from one scene to the next would have sufficed. Admittedly, I was in complete stitches during the scene where Tracy Morgan’s character discusses his bowel movements in minute detail while he and Willis are staking out a house, but part of what was funny was the fact that it just kept going – no breaks, no purpose, just pure Morgan madness.

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Seann William Scott and Tracy Morgan

Although the very idea of Morgan repeatedly mispronouncing a character’s name manages to evoke laughter, not the least of which because it seems as likely that he actually couldn’t pronounce it as him doing so on purpose, he’s not the only bright spot in the film. Seann William Scott, a real charmer with a career that hasn’t done him a lot of favors since his Stifler days (although The Rundown is classic), manages to steal every scene in which he appears, and not just because he plays a thief. But Smith doesn’t seem to know what to do with the character, which is why when something weird happens to him towards the end of the movie, we’re not sure whether or not to laugh.

But then again, that’s Smith’s problem in general: he comes up with good characters, and occasionally, interesting scenarios, but doesn’t know what to do with them, and especially can’t tie them together. All of which makes Cop Out a successful movie, even if it isn’t a good one: because it’s superficial, it satisfies the demands of being entertaining, and doesn’t bother with the business of emotional depth or even particularly effective storytelling. Plus, he picked Harold Faltermeyer for his score, and anyone who can convince a studio to let them hire a guy whose last recognizable credit was Tango & Cash deserves the benefit of the doubt for at least a little bit longer.

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  1. Cinematical Film Critics Respond to Kevin Smith | - 25. Mar, 2010

    [...] suggests, I was one of the folks who evidently saw it for exactly what Smith intended, and actually enjoyed it. — Todd [...]

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