Friday, July 23, 2010

STRIKE OUT: a review of "Cop Out"

"COP OUT" Directed by Kevin Smith
* (one star)

I have to begin this review by asking what I believe to be are two essential questions, especially after having sat through this time waster. The first is an eternal one. Why are certain films given the green light to be funded and created while others languish in "Development Hell"? And secondly, what in the hell has happened to Kevin Smith?!

In regards to the first question, I have no answer to give to you especially since we now live in a world where the possibility of a new entry in the revitalized and astronomically lucrative James Bond series is in serious doubt yet we will soon welcome the arrival of a “Cats And Dogs” sequel. In regards to “Cop Out,” the latest film from Writer/Director Kevin Smith, and the first film of his which he has not written himself, we have yet one more unnecessary entry in the racially tinged “buddy cop film” genre. Bruce Willis is the long-suffering straight man to Tracy Morgan’s unhinged, unstable live wire as they star as Jimmy and Paul, two Brooklyn cops, partnered for nine years, yet now suspended from the force because of their unorthodox tactics and antics. Of course, suspension will not stop them from remaining on the trail of a vicious drug lord as well as a rare, stolen baseball card. “Cop Out” is a tremendous yawn of a movie. It is lazy, uninspired, unimaginative, unoriginal and for a comedy, disastrously unfunny throughout (save for the opening scene and a couple of chuckles here and there).

Sometimes, I like to joke to friends when speaking about movies, and most notably, the terrible ones, “I see these things so you won’t have to.” Dear readers, take this review as the best advice I can give, and chiefly those of you who may be fans of Kevin Smith as much as I am. “Cop Out” is a complete waste of the talent of the principal figures involved from Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan and Smith. Furthermore and undeniably, the film is a complete waste of your hard earned money and your even more precious time. While it stunned me to see that it took two people to write a film so blank, it stunned me even more that at no point during the filming of this movie that absolutely no one decided that this undertaking just wasn’t worth the trouble as it was not funny at all. Tracy Morgan indeed shows that he came to work and while he does work himself into a frenzy, it is to no avail. Willis, on the other hand, completely looks like he is mentally kicking himself for doing a friend (i.e. Smith) a favor. He’s bored and obviously knows the material is beneath him and he visually looks as if he does not want to be a part of it.

The bigger question for my money revolves entirely around Kevin Smith. While I can honestly understand the desire to artistically challenge himself by directing a film that did not originate from his brain, I cannot fathom what potential he could have thought he found in material so pedestrian and painfully clichéd. From his still groundbreaking and reverential debut feature “Clerks” (1994), the stunning emotionally messy romance of “Chasing Amy” (1997), the incredibly hysterical and deeply felt religious satire of “Dogma” (1999), to the superlative sequel “Clerks II” (2006), Smith has built his career around breaking down all of the well-worn conventions of film and creating works that revel in their collective unpredictability. Smith, utilizing his home base of New Jersey as his backdrop, created a “Salingeresque” universe of inter-connected characters and stories dubbed the “Viewaskewniverse." Like the best writers, Smith lovingly concocted the films and stories that he would undoubtedly pay top dollar to see himself if he had not made them and while his particular tastes may not branch outwards to mass popularity, the earned affection and the solidified fan base he created cannot be debated. Even his lesser films like “Mallrats” (1995), “Jersey Girl” (2004) and “Zack And Miri Make A Porno” (2008) all felt as if they came from an honest place. That, for better or for worse, these are the stories Smith wanted to engage himself with and share with an audience.

That’s what makes “Cop Out” such a crushing disappointment, as there seems to be such dishonesty in its intent. I cannot believe for a moment that Smith believed as whole heartedly in this film as he did in the remainder of his work. The lack of energy, the lifeless display and presentation is of marked contrast to all of his other films and I really hope that the hefty paycheck he must have received from Warner Brothers as a "Director-For-Hire" satisfied his soul for a while as none of his prodigious talent is evident anywhere in this film.

And that’s another thing. As vulgar and inane as Smith's films can riotously be, they have typically been so smart about their stupidity, so mature with their immaturity, so knowing about what the characters are not smart or mature enough to realize for themselves. By contrast the stupidity on display in “Cop Out,”which once carried the original and pathetically cringe inducing moniker “A Couple Of Dicks," is not humorous. Its desperate.

Let me please take you back to Smith’s explosively scatological, slapstick, hysterical and near cartoon-like Hollywood satire, “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” (2001). The fifth film in his “Viewaskewniverse” series, followed his mainstay drug dealer characters (played by Jason Mewes and Smith, respectively) as they travel to Hollywood to forcibly cease production on a feature film based upon a comic book which itself was based upon them. In the middle of all of the raunchy, raucous humor involving a gang of lesbian thieves, a monkey sidekick, copious amounts of stoner jokes, returning appearances from beloved "Viewaskewniverse" characters and guest appearances from Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Will Ferrell, the late, great George Carlin and even Morris Day and The Time, it was an absolutely brilliantly smart and perceptive piece of writing. It knew exactly what kind of a movie it had to be, considering the two leading characters and additionally, Smith created a film that turned out to be the ultimate inside joke. He shrewdly roasted Hollywood itself, had a huge laugh on the audience for even paying to see a Jay and Silent Bob movie in the first place, and finally, he even worked the potential bad reviews for any Jay and Silent Bob film into the script—effectively shutting down any negative words any real world critics could say as he had already done so himself. It was a fabulously labyrinthine stroke of writing and filmmaking that was simultaneously fan/audience friendly and critic proof.

“Cop Out,” in many ways is essentially a buddy cop movie about buddy cop movies and 1980s buddy cop movies in particular, right down to the electronic score by “Beverly Hils Cop” and “Fletch” composer, Harold Faltermeyer. The film throws out every possible cliché from the genre that you know. The reckless cops getting themselves suspended as they turn in their guns and badges, the high octane and volumed Police Chief that just won't take one more minute of their shenanigans, the rascally informant (this time, played by Seann Williams Scott) and so on. But, at a time when we have all seen much more than our fair share of cop movies, from sequels, parodies, remakes, thrillers with comedic elements, comedies with action elements, you would think that this would be the perfect opportunity for Smith to utilize the best of his sensibilities, plus his supreme film knowledge, to effectively skewer the genre once and for all.

Yes, I did say that I found the opening sequence very funny. I really did. I even watched it again afterwards. It is a sequence (of course, shown in the film's trailers) where Tracy Morgan interrogates a suspect solely through a manic barrage of the half remembered snatches of dialogue from classic movies (I liked "The Color Purple" line the best). It was a briskly paced scene (which somehow managed to force in one puerile--and funny--penis joke), giving you no time to breathe and it suggested that perhaps Smith just may knock this one out of the park. But, it was not to be.

Aside from a couple of intermittent quips in which Willis and Morgan debate about character motivations and who is the better actor, “Cop Out” does NOTHING with those aforementioned cop movie clichés whatsoever and we are subjected to anemic subplots about Paul’s suspicions about the possibly illicit activities of his gorgeous wife (Rashida Jones), and Jimmy’s desire to pay for his daughter’s wedding, despite living on a cop's wages and soon, the movie barely limps and crawls its way to the finish line, with barely a breath remaining in its cinematic body.

My final reaction to "Cop Out" is not a passionate one as this film wasn't even passionate about itself. It's Kevin Smith's worst film by a long shot. It's one of the worst films of 2010 very easily. All I am passionate about is the trajectory Smith's career may be taking. As a fan, I want nothing else for him but to do well and deliver what I know he has the ability to deliver. He is so much smarter than the material given to him in "Cop Out" that I cannot help but to wonder just what in the hell was he thinking? Certainly out of all of the material he could have chosen from, there just had to be something, anything better than this! If he took this job for the money, perhaps he will put it to good usage as he is now involved with two projects, I know he has been passionate about: the long gestating politically tinged horror film, "Red State" (which has finally found funding and will soon begin to shoot) and "Hit Somebody," a hockey themed comedy-drama based upon a song by the late Warren Zevon.

I have faith that Smith will return to form but for now, with his latest film, the title says it all.

No comments:

Post a Comment