Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cop Out (Smith 2010)

Cop Out: it is a tribute to the buddy cop films of the 1980s.

That is about it.

Ok, Cop Out is a decent tribute to the buddy cop films of the 1980s that manages to amuse, but not much more than that. Director Kevin Smith, working for the first time on a script that he himself did not write, claimed that the reason he did the film was because it was one that his father would have loved. While that might be the case, I cannot help but feel that another reason Smith did the film was because he simply needs an outright hit, something which he has never quite managed to achieve thus far in his career. Given how conventional and safe everything is in Cop Out compared to Smith’s usual work, I can only imagine that it must have seemed like a possible contender to be box office smash, as it lacks the wit, warmth and daring of Smith’s best, but financially underperforming, work.

Cop Out follows the story of Jimmy Monroe (Bruce Willis), a cop who’s daughter is about to get married. With the wedding costing $48 000, Jimmy decides to sell a rare baseball card to pay for the whole thing. However, when attempting to sell the card, it is stolen in a hold up, leaving Jimmy and his partner Paul (Tracy Morgan), who is preoccupied with the possibility of his wife cheating on him, to try and recover it.

Cop Out is a work that is so indistinctive that the only thing that really manages to be of any interest is Smith’s involvement in the film. Outside of a few Star Wars references and the appearance in Jason Lee in a cameo, good luck finding anything to mark this as a Smith film. At his best, Smith has always been the most personal of filmmakers, wearing his feelings and ideas of his sleeves on just about any topic he wishes to talk about, from religion (Dogma) to geek culture (Clerks; Clerks II) and even fatherhood (Jersey Girl). Cop Out however is a film that is shocking in just how impersonal it is. Even in the fairly critically slaughtered Jersey Girl, you could feel Smith’s personality shine through, blending toned down crudeness with sweetness in his attempt to pay tribute to his father. Cop Out is just plain crude and not even inventive in its methods of crudeness, seeking no emotional investment on the part of the viewer, nor offering a unique take on the genre. It is pure imitation of better films.

My main question with regards to the film is this: why were Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis put together in this film? They are actors who work best when taking center stage by themselves, with well defined, bigger than life personalities. Morgan and Willis are not bad together, but they hardly have much in the way of chemistry. Bruce does his thing, and then Tracy does his. Their best moments are actually when they are apart or with other characters, and when a buddy film is at its best when the buddies are apart, then there is a serious issue here. In fact, arguably, the film would have been more interesting if it had followed the rivals of Jimmy and Paul, Hunsaker and Barry played by Kevin Pollack and Adam Brody. That pair are just so bizarre in their behaviour and relationship; it would have been fun to spend time inside their odd little world.

Actually, there is no point about talking about the buddies of the film because there is no reason why this needed to be a buddy film in the first place. The story is supposedly about Jimmy trying to pay for his daughter’s wedding, losing the baseball card that would do just that, and then trying to recover it. What role does Paul serve in all this? Well, nothing: he has his own story that is in no way connected, either plot wise or thematically, to Jimmy’s story. Meshing the two together just creates a narrative mess that goes nowhere. The wedding story is lost and seemingly forgotten until the end of the film, and at no point is the Paul subplot about his wife’s possible infidelity treated with any actual weight. The events simply happen, with no actual meaning or impact upon the characters. Cut down to one story, the film at least might have been focused.

I could go on Cop Out, but there is very little point. If you attend, you will be amused, but not much else. It is simply a film that exists as product, tying over the cast and crew until better film projects come along.

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