Wednesday, October 2, 2019

I Finally Watched Cop Out

Chasing Amy
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Jersey Girl
Clerks II
Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Riddle me this, Batman. Why did Kevin Smith direct a buddy cop show that he didn't write?

Answer: To work with Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. I think.

The Next Step After Zack and Miri

I'd have to go back and do some more research to figure out why Smith chose to direct a film he didn't write in the immediate aftermath of his 2008 movie, Zack and Miri Make a Porno. As I wrote in my review of Zack and MIri, if Kevin Smith were to ever make a romantic comedy, it would have to be with porn. Well, despite the fact he didn't write Cop Out, you can certainly make the case that if Smith were to ever do a buddy cop picture, it would have largely been Cop Out.

Which is the reason, I assume, why he did it. Screenwriters Mark and Robb Cullen must be children of the 1980s because their story is rife with almost every cliche you saw in any given buddy cop film in that decade. It is all over the place, right down to the wonderful synth music from Harold Faltermeyer who delivers a spot-on homage to his Fletch soundtrack (the third note I made while watching the film). That doesn't surprise me at all considering Smith loved the original Fletch book and movie. Heck, the movie even starts with one of the stalwart scenes in movies: slow-motion walking.

A Couple of Detectives

 The entire opening scene is short-hand for how the two leads operate. Like [name your pair of characters] in [name your buddy cop movie], Jimmy Monroe (Willis) and Paul Hodges (Morgan) are rebel cops, out to bag the bad guys any way they can, be it by the book, off the book, or with the book. How bad ass are they? They take turns acting to get perps to give up vital information, trading movie dialogue (mostly Morgan). They are White Lightning and Black Thunder and they always get their man.

"It's like Lethal Weapon lite" is the note I made early on. Yet it's still entertaining. A buddy cop movie is always fun to watch. This one just has Bruce Willis doing....Bruce Willis. Look, I've enjoyed most of his work for a long time, and he always gets at least a look because of Moonlighting, Die Hard, Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense, and, if memory serves me right, my enjoyment of Hudson Hawk. Hey, I didn't hate it, but I also haven't seen it in years. He smirks his way through this film with his trademark smirk, often one step away from looking at the camera and voicing a "Can you believe this?" line to us, the audience.

Be that as it may, I still got why he does what he does in this film: he wants to pay for his daughter's wedding. Divorced, Willis's ex-wife is married to the rich, smarmy Roy (Jason Lee!) who offers to pay the $48,000 for the wedding. Willis is having none of that so he decides to sell a prized baseball card.

Side note: Was Jason Lee's casting Kevin Smith's idea? And was the character's name "Roy" before the film started shooting? Knowing the wink-and-a-nod vibe of the screenplay, I'm sure the writers already had the in-joke primed. Ditto for the direct Die Hard quote.

Tracy Morgan's Paul, in the meantime, thinks his wife (Rashida Jones) is sleeping around on him. Paul hides a nanny cam in his bedroom, hoping he catches his wife's infidelity or to prove his jealousy wrong.

Look, I'm not the greatest Tracy Morgan fan. I tolerated him on Saturday Night Live and I didn't watch 30 Rock. With SNL and here, he's a bit of a one note, the comedic foil to Willis's straight man. But there was some times when Morgan's character made me chuckle. The phone call in the police station just after the two detectives were suspended without pay. He is definitely over the top, and most of the time it was fine, but after a bit, I just wanted to move on.

Sean William Scott Channeling Joe Pesci

If Cop Out is Lethal Weapon lite, then the introduction of Sean William Scott's Dave means we're actually watching Lethal Weapon 2, and Dave is Joe Pesci's character, Leo Getz. Dave is the thief who actually robbed the memorabilia store the very moment Willis was in the store to sell the baseball card. Dave steals Jimmy's card and thus we have our movie. Dave has this hilarious way of mimicking other characters in real time, much to their irritation. It's a pretty funny thing and I wonder of the actor improvised the whole thing. I can't see any other way.

The Rest of the Movie

Like the Lethal Weapon movies (and other buddy cop films), the small case Jimmy and Paul investigate leads to something bigger. In this case, it's a Mexican drug lord looking to expand his territory into New York City. Naturally, this leads to shoot-outs with action beats and you pretty much know how it's going to go, up to and including the part where the drug lord has a hostage and Jimmy and Paul countdown to the point where they're going to shoot him. They do it on one, because you knew that.

In all the melee, Jimmy's card is destroyed so he can't afford the wedding. But, he has, at his disposal, all the old sports memorabilia the drug lord collected. You were thinking exactly the same thing I was thinking when we finally cut to the lavish wedding. Jimmy pawned some of the stolen loot.

Nope. Jason Lee's Roy did, a point Jimmy's ex thanked him for. But not before she makes a last request: allow Roy and Jimmy to both say "we do" when the priest asks who gives away the bride. In a theme underneath the entire film--that partners have each other's backs--Paul persuades Roy not to stand. The persuasion is a pistol in the back. Jimmy stands on his own and says "I do." Nice moment.

The  Verdict

Per the way I've been doing all these reviews, I don't do a ton of research or watch the trailers ahead of time so that I can take these films as they are. Probably one of the reasons why I thoroughly enjoyed Jersey Girl so much and why the death of Jennifer Lopez's character came out of the blue. So I don't know why Smith took this directing gig. Perhaps it was to make more money, but the Wikipedia entry mentions he took a pay cut. It could be the opportunity to just play in the sandbox of a buddy cop film. We all grew up watching them. Who wouldn't want to play?

But it was likely the chance to work with Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. This was John McClane of Die Hard, Butch from Pulp Fiction, and Malcolm Crowe from The Sixth Sense. This was David Addison from Moonlighting. Who wouldn't want to work with him?

Well, something went down, and it drove a wedge between Smith and Willis to this year. But there is a ray of light. Here in 2019, I've heard one of his podcasts in which he relates how Willis reached out of Smith to return a photo(s) of Smith's daughter Willis had. The way Smith told the story, it was a nice thawing of the ice.

No matter the behind-the-scenes stuff, the thing we should judge is the final product. Cop Out is a decent film, a definite throwback to a certain kind of movie made in a certain kind of way. A nod to the movies of the 1980s, without all the bombast of modern buddy pictures (I'm looking at you Hobbes and Shaw even though I thoroughly enjoyed the picture).

But here's the thing: I would have loved to see how a Kevin Smith written buddy cop film played out. As I watched the show, I couldn't help but wonder how much on-set improvisation went on, in dialogue, that Smith brought to the table. There are references to things heard in other Smith films, so I'm inclined to think improv occurred. I just would have wanted a more Smith-centered film.

He's a writer and director. It's like when he or any of the other celebrity directors who direct an episode of a TV show: there's such a template for what the show looks like that the guest director's influence is barely there. Ditto for this film. Visually, I can't tell any particular Smithisms at work. Dialogue-wise, yes, it sounds like a Smith film, but how much different might this have been if Smith wrote it himself?

Knowing that Red State is next (have no ideas about that at all) and Tusk and Yoga Hosiers are the final two before Jay and Silent Bob Reboot debuts here in Houston, I'm not sure Smith would ever return to the buddy cop genre. Just yesterday, he announced Clerks 3 was a go. Look, I enjoy his View Askew films and, so far, his non-Askew films have one highlight (Jersey Girl) and a pair of okay films (Zack and Miri and Cop Out). As a creator myself, I know what it's like to play in different genres. It's fun for a time, but then you want to move on to something else.

I know Smith is returning to that which launched his career and in which he likely feels the most comfortable. But why not try his own hand at another buddy cop film? Why not put his own distinctive stamp on this genre the way Tarentino did on westerns or Taika Watiti did for super-hero films.

Imagine what a full-on Kevin Smith buddy cop film would look like.

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