Review: Cop Out Is Derivative, Fairly Miserable

Cop Out is probably meant to be an homage. Cheesy synthesizer music, a collection of scenes that have been done a dozen times before, the buddy cop movie boiled down to the bare essentials. But homages are tricky things, aren't they? I mean, I could do a stick figure drawing of Michelangelo's David, but you probably wouldn't line up to take clandestine camera-phone photos of it, would you? The homage is only as good as the work itself, not the work it's cribbing from. Somewhere in loving the '80s Lethal Weapon-ish fare, Cop Out speeds off the rails and crashes into simply being a bad movie. And a bad movie, no matter the original intent, is still just a bad movie, although there is a somewhat serious conversation to be had here regarding intent. If a filmmaker makes something that's not entertaining or interesting, do we give him credit because he meant to do it? Would we give credit to people who hit themselves in the head with a hammer, even if it was done on purpose? Quite the contrary, I think we'd implore them not to do it again.

As you've probably surmised from the marketing, Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis are partners, detectives who don't do things by the book. Cop Out doesn't have opening credits (a move which I give extra points for), we're just delivered instantly to an interrogation where T-Morg is doing his thing. It should be said (and so I'll write it) that Mr. Morgan is one funny fellow. He's transcendent in 30 Rock and of the 20 total laughs the movie contains, a good 75 percent come from Morgan just riffing. The script itself seems relatively unfunny, and if they hadn't cast Morgan my guess is they just would have given up on the project altogether. Bruce Willis comes off less great -- replacing him with a statue or inflatable doll might have provided more oomph -- and Seann William Scott is largely unused in what amounts to a cameo (regardless of what the trailers indicate).

There's a famous quote about Oakland from Getrude Stein that goes a little something like "There is no there there" and the same could be said of Cop Out. There's really not much to talk about. There's a snarling and cartoonish villain, a directionless and contrived plot, and each scene bleeds into the next. You've seen all of it done better in films created two decades prior to Cop Out, as if the last twenty years of filmmaking lessons were ignored. There's a glaring logic issue as Bruce Willis attempts to pay for his daughter's wedding, though that wouldn't have mattered if the film was making you laugh. There's some potty humor, some physical comedy, and some decent cursing. But the whole endeavor feels really joyless, as if Warner Bros. gave the project to Kevin Smith and then gave him notes every day telling him exactly what to do. I don't think Kevin Smith could have pulled off a movie this bad without a ton of interference; his movies prove he's capable of comedy, though perhaps his not writing the script here allowed him to check out emotionally. I'm not sure where the exact fail-a-tude started, I only know that almost everyone involved is capable of far better work. Warner Bros. is a proud studio with a robust history. Kevin Smith has made five films I really dig. Bruce Willis is John McClane. I'm on the record as calling Seann William Scott the most underrated comedian in the business, and Tracy Morgan's Tracy Jordan makes me laugh weekly. The combination of all these potent powers should have been a sublime one. Instead it's a rancid mess.

There's a scene, late in the movie, that takes place in what appears to be an abandoned bar. There are no bartenders, no customers, just Bruce Willis and two other guys. One of the guys, as Bruce Willis is approaching him for the meet, remarks "He came." The other guy pipes up with a genius-level "He had to."

Luckily, you don't.

Grade: D