— by Larry Carroll
MARINA DEL REY, California — Maybe you can remember all the way back to "The State," the cult comedy show that launched so many of their notable careers. Maybe you're among the millions who've busted a gut watching three seasons of inspired riffing on the seemingly one-note premise of a "Cops" spoof show. Or maybe you're unfamiliar with the troupe altogether and of the antiquated mindset that in order to make a movie you need a story line, a star or a script. Either way, the stupor troopers of "Reno 911!" are making a movie they hope you'll find arresting.
"It's much bigger than the TV show," Thomas "Dangle" Lennon says with a mischievous grin, his trademark short shorts doing little to protect his knees from the winds off the nearby harbor. "It's also much, much filthier than the TV show."
"We get to not bleep, and we get to not blur," Kerri "Trudy Wiegel" Kenney adds. "We're having fun with that."
"It's rigorously idiotic," chimes in Ben Garant, the perpetually sunglassed simpleton known to fans as "Deputy Junior." "It's really ferociously stupid."
As proudly idiotic as the end result may be, there are some impressively brainy techniques on display during this sunny afternoon, as the cops patrol a dock playing home to an enormous white yacht. The roughest of plot descriptions dictates that "Reno 911!: Miami" is about a terrorist attack that traps a huge group of police at a Miami cop convention, leaving the eight visiting Nevada cops in charge of taking back the city. Like the hit "Reno" show, the movie is completely improvised, meaning these veteran comedians are working without a script, and without a net.
"People think sometimes, 'Oh, it's scripted, and they just go off-script sometimes,' but no, we never [have a script]," busty blonde Wendi "Clementine" McLendon-Covey insists. "I know that today is an expensive day, so that's a little bit of pressure on the improvisers because we can't go back and keep redoing things when there's explosions and stunts and things like that. ... I just hope I don't say anything that ruins a take."
McLendon-Covey has to contain her butterflies for a bit longer as she waits in the wings for co-stars Cedric Yarbrough and Carlos Alazraqui (as the burly Deputy Jones and the intolerant Deputy Garcia, respectively) to finish up their scene atop the yacht.
"We're with a drug-dealer type, a Cuban guy, and we got kidnapped, bags over our heads, my partner Jones and I, and we were brought on this boat," Alazraqui says of the outline they've been handed. "He thinks we know something about a very important person involved in the plot of the movie, but we have no idea what he's talking about or why we've been kidnapped."
Their kidnapper comes in the form of one of the movie's many guest stars — Paul Rudd, a veteran of improv-heavy comedies like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "The Chateau."
"We shot season four this past summer, and [Rudd] came out as this horny Lamaze teacher; he showed up for about two hours, and we got seven pieces out of him," Garant says. "Everything out of his mouth was funny."
Sure enough, Rudd hits his stride once again, unrecognizable in a white suit and loud shirt that perfectly re-creates Al Pacino's classic character from "Scarface." In fact, the character is even named Pacino.
Garant, arguably the dumbest of the "Reno" cops but in actuality the director and co-producer of "Miami," stands off-camera on the boat and radios back to co-producer Lennon, keeping watch near the camera on the dock. Together, they give the OK.
Take one: Chomping a cigar and flanked by a bikini-clad babe (Marisa Petroro of "Tomcats") and two muscular bodyguards, Rudd addresses the tied-to-a-chair, blubbering duo of Jones and Garcia. Speaking virtually every line in the scene, Rudd employs some broken English to segue from an interrogation on the whereabouts of "Mr. Big" to a Pacino-like rant about "cock-a-roaches" to the importance of yardwork. Reaching for a weed whacker, he threatens the "Reno" cops with promises of whacking the truth out of them.
Take two: Barely a line is repeated as Rudd asks: "You busy, guys? Because you seem tied up!" He laughs maniacally and the cops shiver in fear. "Say hello to your little friend," Rudd exclaims, pulling a burlap sack off the head of a third tied-up prisoner, an innocent man who Pacino thinks is partnered with the cops. This time, he uses a Santa Claus reference to get into the weed whacker, as the man (show regular Kyle Dunnigan) exclaims, "No one here looks even vaguely familiar to me!"
Take three: Rudd returns to the "tied up" joke, but this time brings the third victim into it while he looks for a response. "This guy, he's laughing, probably," Rudd speculates. "I can't tell so much, because he's got a bag on his head." The cops take things in a different direction as Alazraqui attempts to speak Spanish to Pacino. "What did you say? You like marshmallows?" Rudd responds. "Look, I don't understand Spanish. I'm from Cuba."
Suddenly, the bikini babe is inspired and begins explaining her boyfriend's actions. "He's watched 'Scarface' like a hundred times," she shrugs. "Every day, he's killing somebody with the weed whacker. I'm bored."
"We got the DVD; I've seen it a hundred times, but every time, I discover new things," Rudd responds, looking at the cops. "This one over here, she wants to watch 'Beaches.' How cliché can you get?"
"It's about relationships," Petroro replies, making it up on the fly.
"It's about estrogen," Rudd returns.
"He wants me to cut my hair like Michelle Pfeiffer," she says, causing Yarbrough to smile and interject: "She's beautiful. She could pull it off."
Take four: Screaming, "Say goodbye to your little friend," Pacino holds his nonlethal weaponry against the third man's face and turns it on, causing a squirming Dunnigan to exclaim: "Ow! That stings so bad! That's so irritating!"
None of the actors on set can tell you who will end up with the most lines when "Reno 911!: Miami" hits the big screen. None of them knows with any certainty how much of the four disparate Pacino takes will remain in the finished product. Being around the set, however, the adrenaline that fuels each take is infectious, as is the sentiment that you'll never catch these cops calling for backup.