In Cop Out, indie filmmaker Kevin Smith tries his hand at working within Hollywood’s big studio system for the first time. But that’s not where this movie went horribly wrong. By all accounts Warner Bros. did right by their notoriously edgy director, giving him all the freedom he needed to make Cop Out his way, as if it were all his own. Except Cop Out isn’t all his own. It was written by Robb and Mark Cullen long before Smith got involved and Smith, also for the first time, directs something he didn’t write. The result is a movie that’s mostly a disaster.
It’s the story of two cops who screw up a stakeout and get suspended by their angry, cliché captain. The suspension doesn’t seem to get in the way of their police work, they keep right on doing what they always do anyway. Soon they’re embroiled in a gang war but really, they’re more worried about their personal lives. Tracy Morgan plays Paul, who’s concerned that his wife may be cheating on him. Bruce Willis plays Jimmy, who desperately wants to pay for his daughter’s wedding, even though he doesn’t have the coin. They ride around arguing over their personal problems while trying to solve some vague case which will lead to getting back one of Jimmy’s more valuable personal possessions. Oh and for some reason there’s a girl. She’s pretty. If there’s any real difference between Cop Out and every other buddy-cop movie you’ve already seen, it’s that it’s more talky. The action is sparse and the dialogue is plentiful, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Though the conversations soon become tedious, you’ve got to give Cop Out this much: It tries. Saddled with a generic buddy-cop movie script, Smith appears to be trying to inject some sort of life into the proceedings by turning it into a deconstruction of the by now, very worn out buddy-cop genre. He’s hired the guy who scored Beverly Hills Cop to crank out a nearly identical, and now horribly dated, sounding eletronica score. He shoots it as if he walked onto the set of Another 48 Hours and pinched all their camera operators. And then there’s Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, who sit around doing their very best Nolte and Murphy while reciting an endless stream of dick jokes. Some of those are even funny.
Yet Cop Out isn’t the sarcastic, genre commentary it wants to be. Smith’s attempt to turn it into one comes off as half-hearted at best and low-rent at worst. I get what he’s trying to do with the score, but it never quite works. Instead, it sounds like he ran over budget and was forced to hire a homeless man with a Casio. And I think I know where he’s going with the look of the film, but there’s a reason movies don’t look like that anymore. It’s dated, it’s worn out, and watching it makes you feel tired all over. It’s been so done to death that it’s impossible to recognize any specific style, instead the whole thing looks and feels as if it’s two steps behind the times.
But it’s not like Smith had much to play with here. He had to try something. What he tries doesn’t really work, but it’s hard to imagine what he could have done to make this limp-dick script any better. For a cop movie it’s remarkably light on action. The script only contains, at best, three action scenes and none of those are particularly actiony or exciting. Smith, who’s never been known for his ability to shoot action, will no doubt take the blame, but even James Cameron would have had a hard time making anything fun out of these flaccidly constructed scenes. So Cop Out must rely entirely on dialogue, most of which takes place between Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. Scratch that, most of it takes place between Tracy Morgan and the wall. There’s not much of a reason for Willis to be there. Bruce is shockingly underutilized, especially when you consider that he’s Bruce fucking Willis. In Cop Out he’s given the thankless task of playing the straight man, a guy who rides around with Tracy Morgan and stares at him while Tracy says insane things.
At least Tracy Morgan’s pretty good at saying insane things and the film does contain a few laughs earned as Morgan rattles on about nothing. Except Morgan works best in short, quick bursts in which he blurts out something ridiculous and then gets out of the way to let the big kids handle the heavy lifting. Here, with Willis sidelined, he’s asked to carry the entire movie. He’s forced into long scenes of dialogue where he talks and talks and the camera stays focused on him. It works better when Seann William Scott shows up as The Shit Bandit, a fecal-focused burglar captured by our buddy cop heroes and forced to ride around in their squad car. If this were Lethal Weapon, he’d be their Joe Pesci. Scott steals every scene he’s in and if he’d been in more of them, then Cop Out might be worth seeing.
Sometimes when you make a movie, it all boils down to figuring what everyone involved in it is good at, and then letting them do it. Here, everyone here is out of their element. Smith’s strong suit is as a writer, one of the best in the business. So here he abandons his talent for writing blistering dialogue and lets someone write (and fail at it) while he directs material he had no involvement in creating. Morgan’s strength is as a sidekick, so here he’s asked to be the lead. Bruce Willis on the other hand is perfect as the wise-cracking, ass-kicking leading man, so of course here he’s the stoic sidekick who sits in the car and looks bemused. There’s talent here, too much for Cop Out to be truly terrible, but it’s talent wasted on a bad idea which probably never should have been made. This script doesn’t deserve these people and even if it did, they’re sitting in the wrong chairs.