28 February 2010 | thesubstream
Hey Kevin Smith: Good job directing this movie.
I didn't expect much going in to watch Kevin Smith's Cop Out, which was maybe the key to why I enjoyed it as much as I did. Expect nothing, and any small glimmer or pinprick of light will end up being a pleasant surprise. Smith's been on a hell of a rough streak: he's affable, an entertaining, accessible twitterer and speaker and someone who makes some not very good movies. With Cop Out, though, he made something that's inoffensive and just somehow manages to hang together, which might have something to do with the fact that Smith is, for the first time, directing someone else's script. He's seemingly outside his comfort zone, for once taking on a big-ish budgeted broad Hollywood comedy. That can't be without it's challenges, especially considering Smith's to-date history of personal, dialogue-driven output, but this is a Warner Brothers movie with gun play and car-chases. Luckily, television writers the Cullen Bros. penned a script that Smith was able to work with; light on action and heavy on the potty-mouthed (but occasionally smart) dialogue. Smith moves the story along scene by scene and doesn't let things bog. He made this movie. It wasn't too bad,and I'm weirdly sincerely proud of him for it. He's improving. He's honing his craft. He's working on his directing chops, maybe recognizing that scatological slices of personal angst and white-dude heartache can only take a director so far.
Don't get me wrong; Cop Out's not perfect. It isn't a great movie. Occasionally, sloppy editing sadly exposes a few weak links here and there and the camera-work is sub-par, but as far as straight-up Hollywood buddy cop movies go, it works well enough. Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan play NYPD detectives in the process of royally screwing up a drug case. As the film opens, they hand in their badges and guns, which kicks off a 30-day suspension without pay. Trouble: Willis' daughter is getting married and he needs money to pay for the wedding. He tries to sell his dad's old baseball card which gets stolen in a robbery being committed by Sean William Scott. The cops track Scott down but he already gave the card to the drug dealers from their aforementioned case, who are looking for a mysterious Mercedes Benz. See? There's enough interesting, goofy stuff going on to at least keep the film moving, which is great. At times, the twisty-turny plot even feels vaguely (vaguely) reminiscent of Coen Bros. style comedy (think Lebowski's series of unfortunate events) even though it never quite gets there. The dialogue, although sometimes uneven and eerily Smith-esquire (lots of tired, unfunny dick jokes), does have its share of laughs. Unfortunately, a handful of neat story moments and funny one-liners can't overcome the film's rougher patches - most distracting of which is Morgan's jealous husband subplot, which is a) tedious and unfunny and b) a bad fit for Morgan's character.
In some cases Cop Out's weaknesses are smoothed over by decent performances. Willis is perfect and Morgan is sporadically funny, although your tolerance for his schtick will be tested. He does dial back his hyper-wacky TV persona just enough to let a goofy-but-responsible police officer character rise to the surface, but he also sticks his tongue out in one scene while saying the words 'orally fixated' which made me throw up a bit in my mouth. So there's that. Sean William Scott is absolutely hilarious, and by far the best part of the film. I always kind of hated this guy but he keeps surprising me, and his character in this is just offbeat and weird enough to actually refresh this whole affair. He isn't integral to the plot but without his performance the film would've sucked large, to be perfectly blunt. Well played, Stiffler, well played. And, of course, what would a buddy cop film be without a rival partnership within the force? Kevin Pollack and Adam Brody are perfect as the department's more-successful, cowboy-boot wearing drug-squad superstars, and even though it would have been great to see more of them, what little they did add gave the story a much needed... something.
I liked it, warts and all. It's pleasing to see Kevin Smith trying something different, something newish and freshish, at least to him. It's obvious that after seeing Cop Out he's still got a long way to go as a filmmaker, but for the first time since Clerks he seems to have shown a glimpse of what he's capable of when he's just focused on making a plain old movie. Not very deep, not very personal, but entertaining and more or less by the books, which I never thought possible. What a surprise! 6/10