It's an American pastime to watch the law pursue the hapless, toothless or pantsless. "Cops" knows this. The Comedy Central show "Reno 911!" knows this too, and it's married this compulsion with our tendency to be amused by clueless policemen, from Keystone Kops to "Police Academy."
Cop chases perp.
Camera chases cop.
We laugh and laugh.
"Reno 911!," a savvy and hilarious parody of "Cops," is the show that lets us laugh at this tendency to laugh. Now it's a feature-length movie that aspires to do the same -- to bowl us over with scofflaws in denim shorts, gap-toothed prostitutes and the boneheaded officers who arrest and/or sleep with them.
Moviedom is littered with the wreckage of ill-conceived small-to-big-screen adaptations, but "Reno 911!: Miami" is not the disaster it could've been. Fans of the TV show need not shudder. You will not see sacrilege. You will see the four-season series boiled down to its essence and molded into an 84-minute CliffsNotes version for theatrical consumption.
The degree to which the movie stands on its own is due to the show's three creators, who "wrote" the screenplay for this heavily improvised movie: Thomas Lennon (playing Lt. Jim Dangle, of the breathtakingly short shorts), Robert Ben Garant (who directs and plays the mustachioed, Kevlar-vested Deputy Travis Junior) and Kerri Kenney-Silver (playing the dowdy, tactless, borderline sociopath Deputy Trudy Wiegel, one of the great characters of 21st-century television).
The trio takes the Reno Sheriff's Department out of Nevada and plops it in Miami for a law enforcement convention where the Reno deputies -- incapable of doing their jobs in a smart, clean fashion -- are fish out of water next to the dapper, disciplined squads from other cities. When a bioterrorist event traps all the visiting officers in one building, the Reno deputies are contracted to keep an eye on the rest of the city, which is plagued with the hapless, toothless or pantsless. This conceit allows the film to ease into the pacing and routine of the half-hour sketch comedy format, if only for its middle third.
Cop chases perp.
Camera chases cop.
And so on.
Compared with the series, yes, it's a compromise. "Reno 911!: Miami" cribs some bits from the show, at one point rehashing line for line a scene from the very first episode. But serial television remains the better medium for this particular work. A single film provides less opportunity to get to know the characters, whose tics, prejudices and inanities require more than 84 minutes divided among eight talented actors, who must ration their face time to keep the movie rolling.
And since it's got to move like a movie, we need a true villain. Paul Rudd gamely plays a Tony Montana-type sleazeball but trails with him the insistence of plot, which dampens the easy-breezy improv that defines the TV show. Also making welcome cameos are character actors from the TV show's bullpen of guest stars (Patton Oswalt as a sniveling city official, Nick Swardson reprising his role as the roller-skating man-floozy Terry). Though she's often sidelined in the movie, it's good to see Trudy Wiegel, a character limned over four seasons into a portrait of womanhood gone terribly wrong. This is the deputy least qualified to carry a firearm, which makes her the most lovable. She's a perfect foil to the preoccupied Dangle and to decency in general.
The one jarring problem -- and hear me out, I'm not a prude -- is the nudity and the cussing, and the movie has plenty. The TV show does, too, but on Comedy Central there are censoring black bars struggling to keep pace with jiggling body parts and bleeps to cover the curse words. There's a certain tacky innocence to bleeping; it's endearing and vulgar at once. "[Bleep] you" is always funnier than the actual command. Without them, it feels a bit like the filmmakers are hoping the bald gratuity attracts the "Wedding Crashers" contingent.
"Reno 911!: Miami" will suffice for fans who are hungry for new material. For those who've never seen the show but wouldn't mind a little transplanted Nevadan vulgarity, sample the movie and consider catching the series on DVD, where the perp-chasing, trigger-happy tomfoolery has over 1,000 minutes to blare its sirens.