Tracy Morgan can't bail out this comedy
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Feb. 26, 2010
Director Kevin Smith has said that one of the things that appealed to him about making "Cop Out," his action comedy starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, is that it's the kind of movie the filmmaker's late father would have liked.
It's a shame the old man isn't around to enjoy it. Much of the movie feels about 25 years too late.
Let's start with the music, by Harold Faltermeyer. It isn't clear whether Smith chose the composer, notable for scoring all three "Beverly Hills Cop" movies, to evoke the cheesy synth sound of a bygone era -- the golden age of the cop buddy flick -- or merely to replicate it. As it is, the music sounds less like homage than hoary cliche.
It's not the only thing that hasn't aged well.
The very concept -- an odd-couple police partnership made up of one level-headed guy (Willis) and one nut job (Morgan) -- was starting to show signs of wear well before "Lethal Weapon 4" (1998). Working from a script by brothers Robb and Mark Cullen (making the leap from TV to feature film writing here), Smith does little to dust off the antique. Other than his casting of Morgan -- an unpredictable wild man who does most of the comedic heavy lifting and by the end of the film looks like he's lost 10 pounds through improv sweat alone -- Smith has given us a lazy retread.
Not 15 minutes in, Jimmy (Willis) and Paul (Morgan) have already botched one case and been chewed out by their captain (Sean Cullen), who confiscates their guns and badges, and suspends them without pay. That sets in motion the main plot, which revolves around Jimmy and Paul's unauthorized efforts to retrieve a collectible baseball card of Jimmy's that has been stolen by a Latino gangster (Guillermo Diaz). Without it -- not to mention without his steady paycheck -- Jimmy won't be able to come up with the 50 grand for the wedding his daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg) has always wanted.
All this, of course, is merely an excuse for Jimmy and Paul to banter, bicker and crack wise in increasingly foul-mouthed fashion about such secondary issues as Paul's bathroom habits or his neurotic jealousy about his wife (Rashida Jones), who he suspects is sleeping with a neighbor. It's pretty funny stuff, actually. In this case, Smith is smart enough to wind Morgan up, turn on the camera and get out of his way.
What results is a tour de force of sheer comic energy that threatens to rip apart the film -- and its sodden, secondhand premise -- like a wad of used paper towels. It's a performance in search of a movie.
Seann William Scott is also a welcome, off-kilter presence as a disturbingly genial cat burglar apprehended by Jimmy and Paul, and later recruited for their mission. (Hint: Stay through the closing credits for more of him.)
The rest of "Cop Out" feels less like a throwback than something that should have been thrown out years ago. From Diaz's Poh Boy, a sports memorabilia-obsessed villain who tortures his victims in a basement batting cage, to Fred Armisen's cameo as corrupt Russian lawyer (whose accent wavers between Spanish and Martian), to Jason Lee's Roy, the smarmy second husband of Jimmy's ex-wife, "Cop Out" is filled with bad guys who are just, well, bad.
Contains nasty language, sexual references and violence.