Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cop Out: Kevin Smith's Directoral Strike-Out.

The Good: Moments of chemistry and dialogue
The Bad: Predictable, Juvenile humor, Mediocre acting, Bland directing, No real character development.
The Basics: A disappointing violent comedy, Cop Out falls flat, especially for a film Kevin Smith is involved with.

There are very few directors whose works I actually get excited about going out to see. Come to think of it, I've missed the last three Terry Gilliam films while they were in theaters as well as P.T. Anderson's last work (which, fortunately, will not be his last!). In fact, since I became a fan of Kevin Smith’s works, I think his cinematic outings are the only ones I've managed to hit consistently in the theaters, including Zack And Miri Make A Porno. So, despite the fact that Cop Out was directed, but not written by, Kevin Smith, I still was thrilled to be able to get into an advanced screening of the movie. Unfortunately for Kevin Smith fans, this is not his best work and not even a passably good effort. Ironically, part of this is because the film is very muted in its cinematic presentation for an action-comedy. This is ironic because the “look” of the film does not carry the energy of most action or comedy films, yet Smith is still using David Klein, his long-time Director Of Photography. I write “ironically” also because Cop Out actually has a budget, which means Smith wasn't scraping quarters out of the couch to pay for every shot.

Unfortunately, Cop Out reminds those who have not seen Rush Hour of the previews of Rush Hour as a mismatch cop comedy that seems to hinge on an “Odd Couple” type relationship. Kevin Smith excels at comedies about just such characters, but that is often because they develop, they have endearing qualities, they grow - or, through their stagnation, the audience becomes sympathetic or empathetic to their condition. This, however, is not the case with Cop Out. Instead, this seems like just another Hollywood comedy, the type Smith has been known to satirize in many of his other works.

Jimmy Monroe loathes his ex-wife's new husband, Roy, who is rich and has no problem throwing that in the cop's face. So, when Jimmy's daughter, Ava, announces her engagement, Jimmy sees the chance to upstage Roy and pay for the wedding, by selling off an extremely rare baseball card he has. But, before he can sell the card, it is stolen from him and he, reluctantly, has to get help in getting it back. That help takes the form of Paul, his wisecracking partner who lacks a sense of professionalism that Jimmy tries to bring to the job.

In hunting down the baseball card, Jimmy and Paul rescue Gabriela from the Mexican mob and find themselves in the crosshairs of various trigger-happy mobsters.

First off, people after the screening I attended seemed to be impressed that Bruce Willis was funny and he was, in a dry way (costar Tracy Morgan goes for more of the laughs with physical humor and over-the-top antics, while Willis plays off that as a frequent straightman). The thing is, anyone who has seen Moonlighting or the sixth season of Friends (reviewed here!) when Willis had a recurring guest star role know that Willis has the capacity to be funny. Laugh-out-loud funny. And, in Cop Out, he is. He has some of the better lines and his more subtle delivery works well for him and for the film.

Second, Tracy Morgan is funny, but in a far less enduring way. In fact, Morgan's Paul becomes quickly droll. The spasmodic, over-the-top deliveries of Morgan quickly leave one feeling like they are watching a 1930s cinematic representation of the antics of black folks. In other words, Paul doesn't seem like a viable or vital character, he seems like the parody of the minstrel show character, bugging out his eyes, failing wildly and making educated people of any color squirm. Morgan's character of Paul is not bad for who he is, but he is uncomfortable for what he represents. Sadly, Cop Out seems to utilize an awful lot of negative ethnic stereotypes to create the characters and the lack of subtlety and emotion control in Paul represents some of the more negative stereotypes.

Conversely, Morgan does a surprisingly good job with the dramatic moments he is given. While his hammy moments are cringeworthy, his action moments are surprisingly good. Morgan carries himself in those scenes with a body language that makes him a plausible action hero and they work. In fact, Morgan seems to have all the characteristics in the action scenes to play a hero or a truly menacing villain. More often than not, though, he is used to deliver ridiculous lines in Cop Out and he soon becomes boring to watch.

This brings us to Robb and Mark Cullen, the writers of Cop Out. One can see in their references to other movies and works a clear appreciation of pop culture. One realizes almost as quickly, though, that the brothers Cullen do not have anything definitive to add to pop culture, the comedy or cop movie genres. In fact, after hearing catchphrases from a dozen movies, Cop Out seems to want to emphasize that it has nothing so memorable. Indeed, the most disappointing aspect of the writing is that the best lines are in the trailers, most of them are unintelligible and those moments in the film are entirely juvenile.

Moreover, the point of Cop Out is not to tell an engaging story; Jimmy's motivation is originally aggrivatingly churlish. One-upping Roy brings out the worst in Jimmy and his search for "justice" becomes more of a way for him to express his frustration violently than do anything remotely redeeming. The Mexican gangsters add a whole new level of violence to the movie and the film ekes closer to the uncomfortable line crossed in recent years by movies like Observe And Report and Pineapple Express (reviewed here!). That line, where violence is used to make jokes and garner laughs - but when crossed becomes disturbing - is approached, but not run over in Cop Out. Though, there is a disturbing "calling card" from the villain of the film, Smith and the Cullens manage not to make it overly gross.

Like most Kevin Smith movies - whether or not he wrote this one - Cop Out contains adult (meaning foul) language at frequent intervals, as well as several mentions of explicit activities. But more often than not, the movie sounds like a junior high locker room interpretation of what sex must be and the whole thing seems largely childish.

And, unfortunately, that saps the enduring interest for the adult audience. Ultimately, Cop Out is not as funny as it could be and is problematic in the way its ridiculousness is more childish than actually funny.

For other movies by Kevin Smith, please visit my reviews of:
Chasing Amy


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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