Buddy comedy, can you spare a cliché
Kevin Smith’s “Cop Out’’ is a white-guy/black-guy buddy comedy with Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. And only a fool would believe that this spit wad of potty jokes and F-grade storytelling is more than one of the fake movie posters in Morgan’s “30 Rock’’ dressing room. In other words: a joke. “Cop Out’’ would hang just fine next to “Who Dat Ninja.’’
Really, though: “Who dat director?’’ Smith, for the moment, has given up on the wit he flashed in “Clerks’’ and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back’’ and tamed in “Dogma.’’ His best humor arises from his pointed observations about the many ways in which popular culture brightens and pollutes our lives. As a moviemaker, he has his moments, always courtesy of his writing, which substitutes exuberant obscenity for true feeling. He trusts sex organs and orifices more than he does the human heart.
Not that “Cop Out’’ needs to be “Dear John,’’ although Morgan’s success as a comedian stems almost entirely from his emotionalism, which is somewhere between a breakdown and a tantrum. He also talks - and walks and runs and gesticulates and pretends to think - like a giant baby. “Jim,’’ he says to Willis at some point, “I just got shot!’’ He’s not childish. He’s fetal.
Morgan and Willis play New York police detectives looking for a baseball card, a Mexican gangsta (Guillermo Diaz), and his missing Mercedes, though not necessarily in that order. Morgan is the hothead. Willis is the baldhead. And the movie wants to send up hoary action- and buddy-movie clichés, including the tinge of gay attraction that passes between the stars. But it’s too fuzzily executed to pass muster as satire. Plus, it loves the clichés too much to subvert them.
Instead, it makes digressions. Morgan’s character, Paul, thinks his improbable wife (Rashida Jones, in need of her own movie) is cheating on him. But she’s married to Morgan. What other choice does she have? And Willis has to figure out how to pay for his daughter’s $48,000 wedding, which is about double what “Clerks’’ cost to make.
The movie is enlivened considerably by a faux-“Beverly Hills Cop’’ synthesizer score, some well-used songs (who knew Eric B. and Rakim made excellent chase music?), and its minor players. Seann William Scott plays a cat burglar as a prankster/beach bum version of Joe Pesci’s “Lethal Weapon 3’’ character. Scott robs houses using parkour, the French street art that “District B13’’ made better known. As one of the homeowners he robs, Susie Essman (Jeff Garlin’s wife on “Curb Your Enthusiasm’’) gets to launch into one of her famous obscene tirades. And Diaz, pumping his stereotype full of showy comic menace, makes love to the camera - and the boom mike and the dolly.
A quarter of the movie, sadly, is spent with Adam Brody and Kevin Pollak, who are meant to be the dull, square cops. They simply point to the likelihood that the filmmakers can’t tell what’s funny from what’s not. This is the first comedy that Smith didn’t officially write (Robb and Mark Cullen did). But his scripts were never his problem. Smith’s challenge was directing a movie that didn’t contain long stretches of tedium and dubious camerawork. “Cop Out’’ is Smith’s most competent-looking movie (look, mom, a whole crane shot!). But the longueurs persist.
This time you get the sense that Smith just doesn’t care. The slums of Hollywood suit him since they take the pressure off his having to assert himself. After the sour emptiness of “Clerks 2’’ and the unconvincing ardor of “Zach and Miri Make a Porno,’’ it’s possible that Smith’s crude moviemaking has run out of inflammatory statements. Who knows. Maybe his recent airline woes will rejuvenate his sense of humor. In the meantime, “Cop Out’’ seems aptly named. It’s not personal. It’s barely even a movie. It’s a fire hydrant that the director and his stars use for exterior shots.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.