With Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Seann William Scott. Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references, violence and brief sexuality. 110 minutes.
When director Kevin Smith says that he did COP OUT because it’s the sort of movie his father would have enjoyed, he’s thinking of movies like “Beverly Hills Cop,” “48 Hrs.” and “Lethal Weapon.” Yes, the movies of the ’80s now constitute material ripe for revival. There’s a whole generation that’s come to maturity for whom the decade is largely the stuff of history.
Under Smith’s direction, the script by brothers Robb and Mark Cullen tweaks the formula but pretty much follows suit. The partners are white and black, young and old, but not much is made of either thing. Instead the focus is on how the two misfit cops make up the rules as they go along. There’s laughs and violence, and pompous characters (both civilian and police) to mock along the way. Studio executives monitoring the grosses this weekend will be itching to greenlight “Cop Out 2.”
The older, white cop is Jimmy Monroe (Bruce Willis). He’s divorced and unsentimental, except when it comes to his daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg). His partner for nine years is Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan of “30 Rock”), whose idea of interrogating a suspect is doing an “homage” to his favorite movie tough guys. They even get in a sly dig at Willis’s signature cop role in the “Die Hard” movies.
The bad guy is a drug kingpin nicknamed Po’Boy (Guillermo Diaz) who needs a stolen car returned and is holding a valuable baseball card stolen from Jimmy. Thus Jimmy and Paul – having been suspended from the force – find themselves dealing with a variety of criminals in pursuit of the card which Jimmy is planning to sell to pay for his daughter’s wedding. As this description should indicate, the plot is complicated and, ultimately, irrelevant. The point of the movie is to generate laughs, with the comedy broken up by violent shootouts and car chases.
Willis, sporting the bald look John Travolta has in his recent action film, can handle the laughs as well as the shooting. Much of what he has to do is play off of Morgan whose character is convinced his wife is having an affair. When things threaten to slow down, Jason Lee, Kevin Pollak and Fred Armisen show up in small roles to keep it moving. And then there’s Seann William Scott – in what might be called the Joe Pesci role – who’s a thief who doesn’t know when to shut up. His riffs distract us from the inanity of the baseball card plot.
In the end what the movie really seems to be about is Kevin Smith resuscitating his career by playing it safe. After “Zack And Miri Make A Porno” (2008) tanked, he needed to do something commercial to prove to the guys in the suits (also known as the guys with the money) that he could be trusted on future film projects. There’s nothing dishonorable about it. That’s how Hollywood works. However, those expecting this to be a “Kevin Smith movie” like “Clerks” or “Mallrats” will find only a few scenes that even approach his signature style. “Cop Out” is less a “Kevin Smith movie” than it is his version of the sort of movie he might have gone to see with his dad or his friends back in the ’80s.
Apparently, they do still make them like they used to.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.