Cop Out is Kevin Smith’s first attempt to direct a movie that he did not also write, and what a wild experiment it is. Not only is this movie a cerebral and methodical expedition into the heart of human consciousness, it’s also the first of its kind. Who would have thought that the composite pairing of a black police officer, and his primordial predecessor the white police officer could elicit such humor-laughs from an audience? Not this humble reporter, that’s for sure! Having never seen any movie since the early 1980s prior to this, my palette is completely untainted by the stench of what I can assume has been a drastically polarizing film-going experience, in which fans of action and comedy are shuffled off into separate lines like the drinking fountain users of yore, never to find communion with their genre-segregated brothers. Now, we finally have the opportunity to see the lines between action and comedy blended in a way akin to the swirl at the center of a chocolate-vanilla shake. And if there’s any chocolate-infused movie infused that still manages to taste vanilla, it’s Cop Out.
With the Kevin Smith brand, you’re bound to expect a few things. First, the film should be crass enough that half of its laughs are so cheap that they systematically undermine any credibility inherent in the satire. Second, the movie should look like shit. It doesn’t matter how much money is piped into it, or how many pretty actors you throw in front of the screen, the movie should look like it was filmed by an incompetent who never managed to greenlight anything outside of his mom’s basement. Third, the movie should have at least a small quantity of genuinely funny dialog, whether it be tacked on in the third act for quality’s sake or strewn throughout at a casual pace, like Clerks. In a universe where Smith no longer writes the movies he directs, some of these credentials are thrown askew, but somehow never enough of them to validate or improve upon his previous formula or the many formula moments he steals from better movies.
There are literally seven billion buddy cop movies in development at any given moment in Hollywood. When I worked at a film company, I used to have to shovel piles of unread buddy-cop scripts into our giant furnace any time the building temperature dipped below sixty degrees. If someone dies in Hollywood, they usually have a twenty-one buddy cop movie tribute at his service. At Heath Ledger’s service, in accordance with his wishes, they just played Brothers Grimm on repeat for twenty-four hours, but that was an exception. Buddy cop movies are both the lubricant and the hand-job of the entertainment industry, greasing the wheels of progress by providing American audiences with the one series of situations they cannot do without, people cracking jokes prior to the brutal murder of a suspect. Without the buddy cop system in place, I would not be surprised if the entire American social structure snapped in half like Michael Douglas’ sanity in Falling Down, resulting in the sort of zombie-level chaos you’d expect from any major metropolitan area that had been informed by the local media that a swarm of bees had escaped from the zoo, or that the world was ending.
Cop Out is the apex of all buddy cop movies. Apex means most recent, right? In this travesty of justice (by which I mean, mockery of justice, I think) Bruce Willis plays John McClaine from Die Hard 4 in that he is a withered husk of his former charisma. There’s one scene where he delivers a painfully beautiful monologue to a character who cannot understand a word he says, and in some microcosmic way it is a fantastic cinematic moment, as Bruce Willis empties his heart with a plea for a better lot in life, but society turns a deaf ear and makes him star in movies like Cop Out. I feel bad for any millionaire who does not have enough money to afford a new annex to his summer house in Prague, which is why I eat nothing but Planet Hollywood hamburgers and drink nothing but Bruce Willis brand SludgeCo. Motor Oil. Speaking of motor oil, Tracy Jordan plays Tracy Morgan for the first half of this movie, then mixes it up by playing nothing for the second half. His biggest achievement is a brief riff on fecal matter that has no right being as funny as it is (the story of his career). Seann William Scott plays with himself in the back of a police car and manages to provide the universe with a less likable performance than all of his previous performances in direct-to-video American Pie movies combined. Susie Essman is in this movie, as is Jason Lee, and both deliver less than lackluster performances as the world boringly immolates around them. Yikes.
That’s not to say that Cop Out has nothing going for it, but it certainly makes you work to find anything memorable or unique about it in premise or story or characters or practically anything. There are funny moments, and nothing besides Jason Lee and Seann William Scott are offensively bad. I want to support Kevin Smith here, because there are so many former fans and commercial airliners that no longer can. But it’s hard to justify his involvement in this movie on a fundamental level. Let’s hope he makes enough money here to do a pet project again, because he certainly didn’t learn anything new cinematographically besides convincing me that he’s decided to let his sliver of directorial vision sink into the background so resolutely that you cannot distinguish his movie from any that have been released in the same genre for the past decade. Bruce Willis is always charming, and if you think Tracy is funny you will probably enjoy portions of this movie. The story in this movie is so bad that it caused the man who plays the villain to lose his mind once filming began. There is no explanation for his performance other than a potential gas leak. I would include it under a list titled “So Bad It’s Funny,” but it would unfairly mislead you into thinking this movie was likable.
I cannot abide by crap movies this decade. Avatar proved once and for all that if you’re going to make a bad movie, you can at least slap a lot of pretty CGI on top of it and make it look expensive for god’s sake. Cop Out looks uglier than most pit bulls, including the one that ham-handedly directed the closing sequence of Inglorious Basterds. We need to provide society with better stories, original concepts and something interesting to say. Movies are modern literature, and all we keep getting is pulp fiction (and not the good kind). All movies should say something about film or literature or life. We as a culture are so far beyond the point of needing stupid-ass entertainment spoon-fed to us by idiot millionaires. Mallrats has a better-rounded story than Cop Out, and in spite of Cop Out‘s hilarious final scene (save the tolerable for last) there is nothing redeeming enough about this picture to provide a repeat viewing.