Although I've never been a huge fan of Kevin Smith's previous films I've always been a big fan of Kevin Smith; "the pop-culture guru." Since Smith came on the scene in the early '90s with his independent film phenomenon "Clerks," the director has had his pulse on the fan-boy based pop-culture boom of the last decade. Besides continuingly making independent and low-budget relationship-comedies like "Chasing Amy" or "Zack and Miri Make A Porno" the director has made quite a name for himself as a comic book writer and comic book-culture aficionado. Smith has written for such legendary comic book characters as Batman, The Green Arrow, Spider-Man and Daredevil at both Marvel and DC Comics, not to mention spoken at countless comic conventions, panels and DVD commentaries on the subject. In addition to the super-hero genre, Smith is also a big fan of the buddy-cop and action film genres having appeared as an actor in "Live Free Or Die Hard," as well as championing the long suffering remake of the classic '80s film "Fletch," which had an obvious affect on this film and has a great Easter Egg reference during the end credits. In fact, it is Smith's constant tip-of-the-hat and use of other pop-culture references to films of this genre that makes Cop Out a fun and entertaining piece of pop-culture.
There is a lot going on here in this film with many pop-culture references to the classic buddy-cop genre that you may or may not pick up on at first glance. You've got the classic "Black and White" cop teaming that is a trademark in such buddy-cop classics as "48 Hours," "Lethal Weapon" and even the lesser-known Bruce Willis film "The Last Boy Scout," co-starring Damon Wayans. The fact that Willis appears as the lead of this film is in itself a reference to the actors onscreen persona yet both Smith and Willis do a great job of walking the fine line of playing homage to Willis' persona while never actually making fun of what makes him so great in these roles. Willis strikes just the right tone acting as the straight man off of Morgan's ridiculous antics while at the same time creating an entirely new and organic character that has many of the trademark qualities we expect from a Bruce Willis role. Tracy Morgan plays perfectly into the wisecracking comedic part that had such a high bar set in the past by the likes of Eddie Murphy and Charles Grodin in "48 Hours" and "Midnight Run," respectively. And the classic references don't stop there as there is a scene where Morgan's character interrogates a suspect by reciting lines from old cop films including "Die Hard" to which Willis' character says that he's "never seen that one." But my favorite nod to this classic genre comes form the films own soundtrack, which incorporates a synthesized keyboard score very similar to the classic ones used in 80's films like "Fletch" and "Beverly Hills Cop." Again, I thought it was a stroke of genius for Smith to not only add a loving nod to "Fletch," a film he clearly loves, but at the same time take a jab at his own failure to resurrect the franchise by using the actual "Fletch Theme" as the end credits song for this movie.
The film begins by introducing us to hard-as-nails NYC police detective Jimmy Monroe (Willis) and his less-than-impressive partner Paul Hodges (Morgan). We begin by watching as the two detectives interrogate a witness. Paul and Jimmy begin arguing because Paul wants to play "bad copy," a role Jimmy usually plays. Jimmy agrees but watches in awe as Paul's technique involves reciting lines from old action films like "Heat" and "Training Day." Ultimately the two cops get the information they need to bring down a new gangster named, Po Boy (an interesting Guillermo Diaz), who is selling drugs and reeking havoc in the community. After the initial bust to stop Po Boy goes south, Jimmy and Paul are put on probation to the delight of their rivals Mangold and Hunsaker played by Adam Brody ("Mr. and Mrs. Smith") and Kevin Pollack ("The Usual Suspects"). Jimmy is concerned because he is a few weeks away from walking his only daughter down the isle and needs his job in order to pay for her costly "dream wedding." If Jimmy is not able to come up with the cash he will have to ask her rich, jerk of a step-father (played with real glee by Smith-main-stay Jason Lee) to cover it, which he is more than happy to do just to make Jimmy look bad. In the mean time, Paul is becoming more and more worried that his beautiful wife Debbie (Rashida Jones from "I Love You, Man") is cheating on him so he places a hidden camera in his bedroom in order to catch her in the act.
Following their suspension, Jimmy decides to sell an extremely expensive and rare old baseball card that he has been holding on to since he was a kid. The money he will receive from selling the card will be double what he needs to cover the wedding however while selling the card at a hobby store, Jimmy is jumped, the store is robbed and the card is stolen by two hapless, stoner thieves. Paul is outside the store while the robbery is in progress but because he is on the phone with Debbie, distracted by her possible infidelities, he is unable to stop the criminals. Determined to get the card back to pay for his daughter's wedding, Jimmy and Paul track down one of the thieves, Dave, played with great comedic timing by Seann William Scott ("The Rundown"). Dave is an expert at breaking and entering, and has some very funny exchanges with Paul. Eventually, after some tough interrogating, Dave confesses that he sold the card to Po Boy. With nowhere else to turn, Jimmy and Paul meet with Po Boy to see if they can get the card back. Po Boy agrees to give it to them if they can do something for him. It seems that Po Boy lost a valuable car that has something very important to him hidden in the back. The two officers agree to the terms and begin to search for the vehicle however once they locate it they are shocked by what they find in the trunk ... Gabriela, a beautiful woman played by Ana de la Reguera. Now in order to save Gabriela, retrieve the baseball card in time for the wedding and possibly get their jobs back, Jimmy and Paul will have to team-up with Hunsaker, Mangold and Dave the stoner thief to bring down Po Boy and his wave of crime once and for all.
Overall Smith does a fantastic job setting the tone and spirit for the film, something he clearly understood. What surprised me was the amount of tender moments packed in that really made the film fill-out nicely, like Jimmy dealing with his daughter's wedding and trying not to disappoint her. It is character touches like this that really make the film stand out. Willis is excellent as always in the action sequences adding a certain amount of authenticity to the film and is equally good in the moments that call for some real emotion. However if I had to critique, and I'm personally a huge fan of Willis, I feel that the actor has lost a bit of his comedic timing from his "Moonlighting" days simply because he has not been called to do it for a while. Where he really made a name for himself as a young actor mastering the art of back-and-forth banter with Cybil Shepard on TV, it seems here that he is out of step a bit with Morgan, which is odd since the film is essentially "Moonlighting" with two dudes. But Morgan more than makes up for this with his over-the-top brand of humor. But be warned: if you don't care for Tracy Morgan's non-sense style of comedy on "30 Rock," then you're not going to like it here either. But if you do, then I think you'll really get a kick out of his work in this film, especially his scenes with Seann William Scott as the two have a great onscreen chemistry.
But it is the onscreen chemistry of the films stars, Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan that really makes the film work despite any shortcomings. You get the idea that these two guys could really be friends and you even grow to understand how Jimmy could put up with a guy like Paul for so long ... they love each other, which is what is really at the heart of any good buddy-cop film. It's a heterosexual love story between two dudes. Think about it, "48 Hours," "Lethal Weapon and even "Midnight Run," that's what they are and that's why they were so appealing. They're "chick-flicks" for guys, they're awesome and that's why we love them. Cop Out is no different. It is the film's loving homage to the buddy-cop genre that really makes this film work and a must-see for any fan of this classic era in film.