Saturday, March 13, 2010
Movie Review: Cop Out
I was very excited to catch the new Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan action comedy Cop Out last night. This movie has so much going for it from my perspective, Bruce Willis is easily one of my favorite actors working today and the film is directed by perennial fanboy favorite Kevin Smith. Even Tracy Morgan, a person who's manic comedic style isn't always for everyone seemed very funny in the trailers for the film. I was really ready to love this film and it really makes me sad to say that the film doesn't measure up to the expectations that I had.
The premise of Cop Out is pretty simple, Willis and Morgan are two cops who have been partnered for 9 years. Willis is divorced and struggling to come up with enough money to pay for his daughters extravagant wedding plans. Morgan is married to a beautiful wife (Parks and Rec's Rashida Jones) but is riddled with insecurities about her fidelity. The two get involved in a case after Willis is caught in a surprise robbery trying to sell off a valuable baseball card to pay for the wedding. Suspended from the force they get involved in a plot with a baseball loving Mexican drug dealer named Po' Boy (played by Guillermo Diaz) and a drug dealers kidnapped mistress (Ana de la Reguera). Without police backup, they have to find Willis card, stop the drug dealer, keep the hostage safe, and clear Morgan's name after his gun is used by the gangsters in a murder.
It sounds like there is a lot going on in Cop Out right? You'd be wrong. The film is really mired by two key elements, the writing and the directing. Let's look at the writing first. Written by Mark and Rob Cullen, the script really can't decide what kind of movie it wants to be. It's certainly trying to homage the great buddy cop comedy action movies of the 80's, like 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cops, and the early Lethal Weapon films. What made those movies both fun and funny was the relationship between the two detectives. The crazy loose cannon and the stiff straight man and on paper that certainly seems like what Cop Out should be, Willis constantly irritated by Morgan's actions, but honestly you get the feeling that he is amused by the whole thing. he never gets exasperated or angry with Morgan, there wasn't that same kind of chemistry between them. This felt more like the chemistry in the 4th Lethal Weapon film where you would expect the familiarity to creep through. I'm not saying the two guys have to hate each other, but its the differences in the two that bring them closer together through the film, I felt like we missed that part in this movie.
Looking at the plot it was also a little week. Po'Boy seems almost like a caricature of a villain and never really brings the fear or gravitas of a bad guy. It just seemed like another chance to use him for comic relief in any moment that he wasn't in an action sequence. I don't even want to get started on the two rival detectives in the film, played by Kevin Pollack and Adam Brody. I think Pollack was picked solely based on the simple Robert De Nero joke he makes and Adam Brody I think was trying to be funny, but simply comes across as forced and awkward. It's like the two of them were meant to be foils to Willis and Morgan, the straight and narrow cops versus the unorthodox cops, but it just felt forced. Sean William Scott of American Pie fame also has a role as a creepy burglar that didn't quite jibe to me as well. I certainly think his character was supposed to be a kind of 2010 version of Joe Pesci's character from the Lethal Weapon films, playing that annoying over the top style of comedy that's meant to be another foil to the characters. Honestly I felt the performance was not really fleshed out or tied far enough into the story for the screen time he was given, especially considering the minimal impact he had on the overall plot in the end.
Let's look at the directing now. I'm a huge Kevin Smith fan and I have loved most of the films he has made in the past. This film was a huge departure for Smith in a lot of ways. First off, it's his first big budget film, most of his films have cost around 20 million dollars, a price tag that certainly hasn't attracted actors the caliber of Bruce Willis. That brings us to the second point, it's his first film starring a leading actor the caliber of Bruce Willis and a cast composed of a majority of actors outside his usual cast of regulars. I mean if you take Ben Affleck out of the equation, whom Smith helped put on the map, he really hasn't ever directed a lead Hollywood actor. Thirdly, it's his first film where he is directing it from a screenplay that he hasn't written. He's directed his own vision in the past, this time he is adapting some one elses. Fourth, he's never really directed action sequences before. His films are a lot of talking and comedy, there usually isn't shoot outs or car chases. This is a lot of unmarked territory for the director.
Unfortunately a lot of this unfamiliarity is exposed in the film. The action sequences don't really have a lot of pep or zing in them, and in most instances you don't really get any feeling of adrenalin or any kind of rush due to the staging of the sequences. His inexperience in this area was readily apparent and really took me out of the action. I would have liked to see a more experienced stunt coordinator or even a 2nd unit director with a pedigree in action films. Another impression I got was a sense of intimation from Smith. Firstly in sticking to the script almost slavishly. The best scenes were the ones that felt improvised, especially between Sean William Scott and Tracy Morgan, and early on in the film as Morgan is interrogating a prisoner. Anytime he let the actors be the actors, I felt the film was stronger, but really it felt like he didn't want to deviate from his script, which is a very un-Kevin Smith like thing to do. He usually gives his actors a wide range of approach, here it felt like they didn't have that same sense of freedom, like we was afraid to change what was on the page.
As a director, Smith is considered not really to have an approach or style of filmmmaking by most critics, though I always thought that he was known for his dialog and characterization as a means to mark his approach. I didn't feel like he felt like he could do that here. This also is apparent in his handling of Bruce Willis. Willis seemed bored and flat in his role. I don't think that Smith felt comfortable giving an actor the caliber of Willis, whom Smith clearly had idolized prior to entering the business, clear directions. He never coaxed a performance out of Willis short of Bruce being Bruce, which is a shame because both the director and the actor deserved more.
The sad part of this film is that despite everything I've said, it's not a bad film, its simply lackluster. It's a movie who never reaches it's potential, a potential that was readily apparent to me with a simple re-write and a different approach. Ratcheting up the tension between Bruce and Tracy would have gone so far towards making this movie more enjoyable. Tracy was playing the role just like I thought, Bruce needed to play the straight man more. Kevin Smith is a director who understands relationships and characters, he's not who you get to direct action. He works best using actors he is familiar with, he's more of a modern day dick and fart joke version of Woody Allen if that makes sense.
The best advice I can give you is to wait for video on this one. It's not a total waste as it does have a few really funny comedic moments but overall it never quite measures up to the high hopes that we have for it. It may seem like I had nothing positive to say as I focused so much on the negatives, but its simply because I wanted this film to be good and the things I saw should have been readily apparent to everyone involved. I think the first sign was when they watered down the name to the film. Originally it was to be titled A Couple of Dicks, as a pun on cops being referred to as dicks. That style of humor was much closer to what Smith brings as a filmmaker. This film was far short of its potential In the end, you should pass on Cop Out, as the only play on words in the new title was its promise.
End of Line.