A Comedic 'Cop Out' Indeed
Mary Pols, Special to MSN Movies
"Cop Out" is just as funny as you'd expect it to be. That sounds vague and unhelpful, but what it means is that the movie doesn't have the power of persuasion. If you have your suspicions about a "Lethal Weapon"-style buddy movie starring Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis, respectively, as an earnestly foolish cop and his cool and competent partner, they will be confirmed. If this sounds like a recipe for hilarity to you, then you'll likely enjoy yourself. Stirring fresh passions isn't the point of "Cop Out." It just wants to remind audiences of something they've enjoyed before, like looking at an old photo album.
Take the opening scene, in which Paul (Morgan) and Jim (Willis) must get information from a suspect. Paul is tired of taking a backseat to the more intimidating Jim -- they have been partners for nine years -- so he insists on taking the lead. Jim watches from behind the one-way mirror as Paul interrogates by running through dozens of quotes from other movies: "Training Day," "Heat," "Schindler's List" and even "Dirty Dancing." Morgan drools and yells as if he's Al Pacino doing all of these characters, and Willis reacts with bemusement, naming off the movies. "Everything on cable?" he says at one point.
Morgan's spitting makes it hard to distinguish the jokes, the timing is off and so is the editing, so a lot of this is lost. But it's enough of a compass to orient you. This is the classic pop culture self-referential style of director Kevin Smith. He didn't write "Cop Out" (Robb and Mark Cullen did), but his stamp is on the movie nonetheless, from the constant stream of obscenities and sexual references, to a Jason Lee cameo and a subplot involving corrosive jealousy. (Paul is married to a beautiful, kind woman played by Rashida Jones. He can't believe his good fortune and neither can we.)
Note the title: The movie is honest in its laziness and that becomes its lone badge of courage. The laziness also appears to be contagious. Willis is operating on some lower switch than usual; he turns his Willis-ness on only when a scene seems to amuse him, which is not that often. In contrast, Morgan is very turned on, although he's stuck in the same creative channel he tunes into on "30 Rock," emitting a naïve, obnoxious idiocy that is intermittently funny. If you're on the fence about spending money for this movie, keep in mind that unlike "Cop Out," "30 Rock" is free, well written and has the bonus of having other, much funnier characters.
Actually, there is someone in the "Cop Out" cast of invigorating comic mania: Seann William Scott. He plays Dave, a petty thief who steals a treasured and very valuable baseball card from Jim, just as Jim is about to sell it to raise money for his daughter's (Michelle Trachtenberg) $48,020 wedding. Dave's actions set off a chain of events that have Paul and Jim chasing a whole gang of astoundingly crass Mexican stereotypes, headed by Guillermo Diaz of "Weeds" (he's more artful and scarier on that show). Dave likes to needle people, mostly by talking about their wives having sex with other people or by imitating everything they say, and Scott does this expertly, with an eyebrow cocked toward his victim. Even if Dave was your seventh-grade classmate and you were the least popular kid in school, you'd have to concede, however grudgingly, that there is an evil genius about him. Scott seems to prod life into Willis whenever he's around, but, unfortunately, he's not in the movie that much. This is one of those laments you don't expect to feel or share, ever, but in a movie where the main imperative is to retrieve a tiny baseball card in order to pay for an event that will last only a few hours, maybe it makes sense to grasp at whatever fleeting pleasure presents itself.
Mary Pols is a Bay Area-based journalist. She reviews movies for Time.com and was for many years a film critic for the San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times. She is also the author of a memoir, "Accidentally on Purpose," published in 2008 by Ecco/ Harper Collins. When she's inspired, usually by something weird, she blogs about it at www.maryfpols.com.