Review: 'Let's Be Cops'

The best part of Luke Greenfield’s action comedy “Let’s Be Cops” are its closing credits, a minute or two of wacky and wily scenes that look and feel finished and should have, unquestionably, been included in the film’s final edit.

Why? Well, it’s relatively simple – those random scenes of Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. playing at being cops and actually having fun with it, scenes that are indecorously slapped on top of the usual end crawl filled with the names of everyone responsible for the film, are the funniest part of the finished product. “Let’s Be Cops” should be hilarious, thanks to a pair of leads that exhibit the kind of wooly comedic chemistry that should keep them in the comedy business (at least, together) for many years to come and a plot that sounds slapdash and weird enough to breed some big comedy.

It’s obvious from the film’s amusing opening that Ryan (Jake Johnson) and Justin (Damon Wayans, Jr.) aren’t doing so well – after all, sad karaoke set to the dulcet tones of the Backstreet Boys (“I Want It That Way,” obviously) and performed in a nearly empty and brightly lit restaurant is a solid way to convey mental instability. The best friends have struck out big time in Los Angeles since moving there to “make it” after graduating from their Ohio alma mater, and it’s difficult to conceive of what can pull them out of their stupor. It will probably be illegal activities, right? It has to be.

Justin and Ryan aren’t LA hip – they’re probably not even Ohio hip, but that’s for another movie – and the stench of their loserdom hangs off them like a cheap ironic tee shirt. Ryan is a former college football star whose bad behavior nixed his professional career before it even began (he didn’t go crazy with guns or drugs or booze, he simply made the boneheaded decision to jump off a roof at a party, injuring himself in the process, which is perhaps the best explanation of who Ryan is that the film could possibly offer) and who now spends his days doing a whole bunch of nothing.

Sure, that herpes commercial (and, wow, how we wish there was more stuff in that film like that herpes commercial, as terrifically gross as that might sound) he did two years ago brought in some cash – accidental, really, the casting people found him in a mall – but he’s got no ambition and even less direction. At least Justin knows what he wants to do, which is make video games, and even though his job is in his chosen field, no one at his company respects him, and “Let’s Be Cops” opens just in time to catch his next big career biff.

It’s Justin’s video game that’s to blame here, which is odd, because it’s Ryan who insists on carrying their moronic plan to completion. Justin’s dream project is a first-person video game called “Patrolman, L.A.” that, to the chagrin of his explosion-obsessed boss, doesn’t feature anything sexy like firefighters or zombies or super powers. No one wants to be a cop, which means that no one wants Justin’s video game.

At least Justin has some authentic cop uniforms – complete with real bulletproof vests! – at his disposal, because that’s a normal thing that people need for a video game presentation, and when Ryan decides they should wear them to a costume party, it sure seems like a much more intriguing offer than putting on sheets and calling themselves ghosts. The herpes commercial was a better idea, guys.

The party is a bust, but afterwards, wooo, that’s when things really get ripping, because people think that Ryan and Justin, two people who are dressed in official cop uniforms, are actually cops. People are so dumb! They’re not cops! They are just pretending! (Insert big guffaws here, presumably.)

Instead of focusing on the duo’s hijinks (and, yes, some of their first attempts at playacting as cops are quite funny) once they conceive of their idiotic plan, “Let’s Be Cops” soon transitions into a more standard-seeming action film. Justin and Ryan might be exceedingly bad at police work, but the elements that make up the film’s big crime subplot – there’s a Russian kingpin, for chrissakes – are the kind that we’d find in just about any low-rent cop flick (you know, about actual cops).

You’d think Ryan, who apparently watches a ton of police movies in addition to the YouTube tutorials that school him on cop lingo, would realize what’s about to happen to befall the duo in the line of fake duty. (Although, to be fair, the appearance of Andy Garcia as a high-ranking officer with something to hide is indeed a surprise, just because we had no idea the actor needed the money so badly.)

The film is confusingly and sloppily put together, edited down to the point that the few genuine jokes of “Let’s Be Cops” are given precious little time to breathe, before zipping into the next sequence of increasingly irrational events. Johnson and Wayans do have a strong and charming comedic chemistry between them (the pair currently star together on television’s “New Girl,” and the comfort of their existing relationship is obvious and kind of sweet), but Greenfield and co-screenwriter Nicholas Thomas’ insistence on putting them into more action-heavy sequences frequently dismantles the single best thing about the feature.

By the time the credits roll on the film – and it will take some time to get there, as “Let’s Be Cops” inexplicably clocks in at close to two hours – it’s easy to forget about the feature’s earlier sequences, the kinds the feature the same humor that’s on display during a time period when audiences are generally exiting the theater. The end credits stuff, the stuff that is wholly meant to be meaningless, that’s what “Let’s Be Cops” should have been about, that silly and stupid strangeness, not another throwaway action film peppered by people calling each other (quite rightly) morons. Lock it up and throw away the key.