I love Kevin Smith. For a solid decade and a half, the man has been an essential part of American cinema. With his subliminal commentaries on society, quirky below-the-belt sense of humour, intelligent homage to pop culture and spaced-out plots, he has provided a valid alternative to the Tinseltown glitz-and-glamour. A Garden-State counterpart to the Hollywood industry, he has created largely unheralded gems like Clerks, Chasing Amy or Dogma on low budgets – and still managed to attract A-list talent for the better part of his career. Film buffs and critics alike admire him. But one really must wonder: what has gotten into Kevin Smith?
His latest project, Cop Out, is a ‘buddy cop’ flick in the tradition of Lethal Weapon or Rush Hour that looks good in cold print. The combination of a solid cast consisting of Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Adam Brody, Seann William Scott, Kevin Pollak, Michelle Trachtenberg, Rashida Jones and Jason Lee plus Smith’s directing chops definitely holds some promise. But paper does not blush. The main problem of Cop Out is that for most part it is simply not funny. It lacks the typical smart gags one is used to from the director’s previous outings, and the on-screen chemistry between the lead actors Willis and Morgan is virtually non-existing.
Granted, both of them can be funny. They have proven that in the past. Morgan on 30 Rock and Willis in various projects, most prominently as over-the-top cop John McClain in the Die Hard saga. His part here is not that far removed from this starring role. McClain is washed-up, constantly beaten up and on the run. Jimmy Monroe (Willis) and his partner Paul Hodges (Morgan) in Cop Out never seem to do anything right and always fail on a grand scale – at least at the beginning of the movie. So there are similarities. But Morgan as ‘second fiddle’ of the interracial duo does not work as well as other African American comedians in analogous roles. Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop, Chris Rock in Rush Hour or the all-black twosome of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys come to mind here.
The same goes for Seann William Scott, probably best-known for his work in American Pie and Hey Dude, Where’s My Car? He still plays the same old part after more than a decade. Now and then this routine can be hilarious but it has been overdone and used ad nauseam. More often than not it only makes you cringe or roll your eyes. That being said, the actors should not have to take all the blame. To some extent, the unimpressive performances are simply owed to a bad script.
For the first time ever in one of his films, Kevin Smith did not contribute to the Cop Out screenplay. It was written by Emmy-nominated producers Matt and Robb Cullen instead. And it shows. The gags are in general predictable, trivial and exorbitantly stupid, the Mexican baddies neither scary nor amusing enough to make a real impact. Several of the sections like the ‘cheating wife’ subplot have appeared in similar movies before. The ‘damsel in distress’ angle was much more convincing with Téa Leoni in Bad Boys.
That is not to say that the film is terrible as a whole. It has its moments, particularly at the beginning and the end. The opening sequence is especially brilliant and evokes bursts of laughter. Willis and Morgan perform the ‘good cop/bad cop’ routine so well-known from various ‘buddy cop’ movies. Those first few minutes are vintage Smith – fast-paced and filled with numerous allusions to other films. What follows is a real let-down, however. The outlandish humour is missing. The characters seem shallow – unlike the amiable anti-heroes from Smith’s previous efforts – and leave you questioning the director’s motivation.
In short, what happened to Kevin Smith? One can basically argue that he adapted to the mainstream. ‘Sold out’ might be a bit too strong of a word here. But whatever it may be called, it is certainly not a good thing. In a sense, Cop Out looks like a desperate attempt to attract a larger audience. And by trying to do that, it loses the peculiarities and the edge that made the director’s other films such a special experience. This becomes particularly obvious from the film’s setting. Smith abandons his home state New Jersey, the place where all his other movies take place, for the bright lights of Gotham.
Jay and Silent Bob, the idiosyncratic but somehow likeable characters featured in most of the director’s older features, would rather try to sabotage such a production than supporting it. In Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, they embark on a trip to Hollywood to ruin the shooting of a film based on their lives in order to protect their good names. I wish Smith would have had the same backbone as his creations and refused to do Cop Out. In terms of modern ‘buddy cop’ flicks with countless references, it cannot even compete with the much better Hot Fuzz by British filmmaker Edgar Wright. Cop Out is not a horrible film as such. But it is not particularly good either. For someone with Smith’s reputation and track record, the picture is a disappointment.
By Torsten Reitz ©