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Entries in Cop Out [2010] (1)

Sunday
Feb282010

Cop Out, 2010

Beat Downer

A wonderful thing happened this week: the Clerks blu-ray dropped from a ridiculous $24.99 to a more reasonable $14.99—keep in mind, this is the Amazon.com price, and not the $40 retail amount. Because of this, I was finally able to pick up one of my favorite movies and enjoy it in high definition. And, yes, it’s rough watching parts of it now, as the increased resolution makes all of the “charming” low-budget defects seem absolutely garish; but the new transfer also offers a wealth of new detail in the picture. On top of that, the disc is packed with great extras, and two versions of the movie.

The best part of watching Clerks is reminiscing about that magical period in the mid-90s when a small group of independent directors were discovered; auteurs whose unconventional storytelling methods would shake up Hollywood and help define the industry into the next century. The same way Robert Rodriquez broke the mold of action films with El Mariachi and Desperado and Quentin Tarantino bent the sprawling Academy epic to his exploitation- and pop-culture-loving will, Kevin Smith re-invigorated comedy with his movie about two convenience store clerks who swear at customers and complain about their sorry lives.

Smith’s raunch got people’s attention, but the earnestness of his characters and their love of alternative and geek culture built him an audience; he was a filthy Woody Allen whose films pointed out that the hum-drum slapstick of Chris Farley movies was not only unfunny, but also not the only game in town. He wrote and shot in a style that was lackadaisical but honest, at least for the hyper-intelligent, directionless, and middle-class of his generation. Kevin Smith masked real-world fears in blowjob jokes and Star Wars analogies, demonstrating that comedy could tickle the funny bone without fat people running into lamp posts, and tug at the heart strings without resorting to teary close-ups or overwrought violins on the soundtrack.

Kevin Smith should be fucking ashamed of his latest film, Cop Out.

My wife and I watched it the other night, and while we were busy not laughing, we looked at each other in horrified disbelief at the unfunny tragedy unfolding on-screen. This is the first movie Smith has directed that he did not also write, but I’m really, really curious as to what he saw in the abysmal screenplay by Robb and Mark Cullen. To call this either an homage to or a send-up of 80s cop movies is to understand neither 80s cop movies nor the concept of satire. For one thing, classics like Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon were exciting and had compelling lead characters; for another, satires are typically funny. So, why was I both unmoved and not amused during Cop Out’s nearly two-hour run time?

Maybe it’s because Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan were unconvincing as New York cops; partners, in fact, of nine years. Willis has the beleaguered-police-officer thing down, but Morgan’s dropped-on-his-head man-child shtick doesn’t lend itself to this story; especially when we see him doing actual police work, it’s hard to accept that his superiors would not have had him committed, let alone keep him on the payroll for nearly a decade.

This is not a farce, like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. In that kind of movie, it’s okay for one of the heroes to be an obnoxious, borderline mentally disturbed freak—because the whole point of the story is to watch the world react to them. Cop Out is allegedly grounded in reality; the two detectives find themselves embroiled in a war with a Mexican drug dealer whose crew deals with failure in their ranks by shooting people in the back of the head and then cutting out their tongues so that they can’t confess their sins in the afterlife (this, by the way, was the only interesting idea in the movie, but I’m sure the screenwriters just Googled “cool gang-banger shit” and copied the entry into their screenplay).

Tracy Morgan is fun to watch on 30 Rock, which is a deft TV comedy that allows him to throw weird tantrums and speak in non-sequiturs. Sadly, the Cullens’ screenplay thinks that the best use of his abilities is to drop him into a four-minute-long interrogation scene where he mumbles and thrashes about, spewing tough-guy lines from movies—while Bruce Willis stands on the other side of the two-way glass, saying the movies’ names out loud for the benefit of the zombies in the audience (please, don’t hurt yourself laughing when Morgan says, “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” and Willis says, “I haven’t seen that one.”). The majority of Morgan's scenes drag on and on and on, laugh-free.

Cop Out is a real tragedy, as it’s packed with interesting actors who’ve all been great in better roles. Guillermo Diaz played a meaner, more realistic version of a drug lord on the Showtime drama, Weeds. Seann William Scott shows up as a drug addict who helps/hassles our heroes; unfortunately, he leaves his Steve Stifler character from American Pie behind, with no personality or spark in its absence. The great Kevin Pollak turns up, too, as a rival cop, and I wished really hard that we could have left the main bozos behind and just followed his character for the rest of the movie. The only actor who came away unscathed was Jason Lee, as the new husband of the Willis character’s ex-wife; is it bad that I was on his side after his diatribe about how much a loser Willis is?

It just occurred to me that I’ve not spent any time discussing the plot of Cop Out.

Let’s get back to that Clerks blu-ray. The movie is still very funny and heartfelt and, most importantly, it has a unique voice. That voice came from a director who would never pay money to see a movie like Cop Out. He would surely consider it a generic, soulless grab at attention and relevance from someone who needed weed-and-mortgage money after his last work of passion flopped at the box office. Kevin Smith needs to funnel all of the dirty cash he made off this picture into another original work and release it independently. He needs to reconnect with the hungry, young rebel with something to say and more to give; the creator of Clerks, Dogma, Chasing Amy, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and, truly, one of my favorite sequels, Clerks 2. Those movies were memorable. The only thing I’ll remember about Cop Out was that it came out the same week Clerks went on sale.