Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Cop Out (2010)
The problem isn't so much with the direction – Smith still has some obvious limitations, many related to his ambition in shooting a scene – but with the characters. Bruce Willis is essentially playing a role one would expect Bruce Willis to play, but other than he apparently has a vindictive ex-wife and a daughter who doesn't understand the value of a dollar (please, ask your middle middle-class father to pay for a $48,000 wedding, 90% of which must have been spent on the reception if we are to judge by what the ceremony looks like). The other characters don't fair any better when it comes to development, and this is a problem as they shuffle along in this overlong project. Then again, Smith apparently decided to do most of this project while high on marijuana – because he was inspired by Seth Rogen to do so. I will mark this in my book as another reason to not like Rogen. If the accusations that Smith interacted minimally with the cast – a la Stephen King with Maximum Overdrive (1986) – then this explains how Morgan was allowed to kill every scene and a lack of consistent tone.
Seann William Scott (looking a little chubby in the sweatshirt) is a parkour master and occasional thief who has the best energy and lines in the film. Unfortunately, it seems he largely borrowed the shtick used by one-time co-star James Roday uses on Psych (2006-present), albeit with a little more R-rated nastiness. This is counterbalanced by the scene with the enormously unfunny 11 year old car thief (played by Marcus Morton). There has been a trend to introduce the foul-mouthed, criminal (or nearly criminal), violent pre-teen black boy [see Seann William Scott's film Role Models (2008) for the most obvious example] as a comical figure. I want to go on the record as saying that it does nothing positive for me when I see that.. Scott isn't in much of the movie, but neither are Kevin Pollack (giving an awesome but too brief Robert DeNiro impression) and Adam Brody as the other detectives in the story.
What Cop Out does get right, to some extent, is the music. Borrowing from 1980s films such as Fletch (1985) for Stephanie Mills' "Bit by Bit" and now ubiquitous Ram Jam cover of "Black Betty", Cop Out sounds like it wants to be an homage to the action comedies of Smith's childhood/adolescence. Unfortunately, Smith, or more likely writers Robb Cullen and Mark Cullen, did not feel the need to form a complete story into which comedic elements could be sprinkled. Instead, there are often crass set-ups for unfunny bits (mostly because Morgan is poison) that strain to have anything to do with the three separate plots at play.
Cop Out isn't a bad looking movie; clearly it had a budget. It doesn't feel like a Smith project – at least it isn't as angry or upsetting as Rogen's The Green Hornet (2011) – in that it isn't concerned with witty dialogue or the dynamics of friendship. I don't know if Smith has earned the right to keep working as a director-for-hire. If this is the effort he thinks is acceptable, maybe he would be better off hosting a talk show. I know that I have not been enthusiastic about any of his projects since Clerks II (2006), and did not find that movie to be very rewarding.
But Cop Out isn't really about Smith's deficiencies. It is about Tracy Morgan. How he isn't funny and probably never has been outside of brief appearances on SNL close to a decade ago (and SNL should have a much stronger history of finding talented African American actors than it does). It is about how a seemingly by-the-numbers script needs the actors to do something with it other than just show up. But if you had to watch your performance get killed by Morgan every day, 10-15 takes at a time, I'm betting that just showing up would start to look like a victory.