When comedy does its job right, it holds a mirror to the institutions and the quirks of human life, and it shows us the absurdities inherent in otherwise valid practices. After all, effective satire and good, old-fashioned slapstick have always gone hand in hand. Some of the best comedies actually have been based around law enforcement. Police Academy, Hot Fuzz, and, of course, Beverly Hills Cop are all prime examples of what a cop comedy can do when it's on its game. Let's Be Cops is the drunken fratboy that watched those movies, tried to be like them, but ended up passing out flat on its face before completing the first set-up.
Ryan (New Girl's Jake Johnson) and Justin (New Girl's Damon Wayans Jr.) are two buddies who like to drink, go out for karaoke, and complain about how they haven't “made it” in L.A. before they turned 30. Ryan's still milking the money he made off of a medication commercial he shouldn't be bragging about, and Justin is the whipping boy at the video game firm he works at. What starts as being mistaken for cops after a failed college reunion / masquerade ball turns into a full-out war with the Russian mob.
Director/writer Luke Greenfield and co-writer Nicholas Thomas give you literally that much story in the entirety of Let's Be Cops' 104-minute run time. The meat of this film's sandwich is the humor of how Ryan's totally committed to learning how to become a cop, and Justin is committed to being a bitch about how wrong it is, while reaping some of the rewards. This could work if it was the focus of a handful of scenes in the film, but this is basically what they play off of through the entire film. While Justin dips his toe into the other side of the equation and enjoys it, Ryan begins the film as a trigger happy idiot and (spoiler alert) ends the film as a trigger happy idiot... WITH AN ACTUAL BADGE!
This movie has no stakes whatsoever, and not once do you ever think that Let's Be Cops will ever punish its characters or try to teach them anything new. There are no consequences, despite the fact that the film goes out of its way to spell out the actual consequences of impersonating a police officer. There is no threat, considering the otherwise reputable James D'Arcy is playing the lead villain because Ethan Hawke more than likely turned down their “meta” idea of casting the “good cop” from Training Day as the bad guy. Most important, there are very few laughs, despite the fact that this movie markets itself as a comedy.
Perhaps the greatest crime Let's Be Cops could ever commit is the fact that it exists. In a climate where police brutality is still pretty fresh in the news, a movie that allows its characters to flagrantly break the law without even a token advisory to “not try this at home,” (or even a dedication to the efforts of actual law enforcement officers,) is blatantly irresponsible.
There's a scene in Let's Be Cops where Justin tries to confess to the fact that he and Ryan aren't cops, only for Rob Riggle's underused character to bail him out. Justin still tries to convince the officer at the desk that they aren't cops, which only prompts the officer to tell him, “That's not funny.” That was probably the most authentic and identifiable scene in Let's Be Cops, because at that moment I found myself thinking, “Wow. This movie finally said something I agree with.”
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