Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cop-Out: The Smith Kid Strikes Back

Kevin Smith is famous (inasumuch as he is) for his idiosyncrasies. You always know "who the Devil made it," to borrow Welles' quote to Peter Bogdonavich when asked about which directors he preferred. His movies are vulgar and thoughtful and juvenile (sometimes all at once). Also, they take place in New Jersey.

He got his start when some incredible luck drew attention to his funny, quirky, $60,000 shot-on-video debut, Clerks. Since then, he's made about six or seven other movies, all set in the same universe, all set in Jersey and, since his fourth film, Dogma, all making about $30M at the box office.

But the Smith kid, for all his laid back attitude, is ambitious. All of his movies have progressed, one to the next, showing increasing competence, vision and scope, on a technical (if not artistic) level. Though I doubt he's done making his idiosyncratic movies, it's clear that he yearns for greater success. (And like all good men, he knows his limitations, having turned down a superhero flick years ago, despite being a huge comic book fan, simply because he knew he wasn't ready.)

His breakthrough film should have been Zack and Miri Make A Porno. A sort of Judd Apatow-esque movie (and some say Apatow is the spiritual heir of Smith) with the currently hot Seth Rogan?

It made about $30M.

A huge disappointment. And whether that was because of the balky ad campaign hampered by the word "porno" in the title, overexposure of same Mr. Rogan, or because of some quality of the movie itself is a topic for another time.

But for reasons he's detailed on Twitter (and elsewhere, honestly, the guy never shuts up), he opted to make his next film one that someone else wrote; he would serve only as director. A lot of the fans were crushed. The critics were brutal; doubly so when the movie turned out to be a Bruce Willis/Tracy Morgan vehicle that is basically a throwback to the '80s buddy cop movie.

That film, with the Smith-y working title of A Couple Of Dicks ended up being released as Cop Out.

But Throwback would've been a good title. Willis and Morgan are cops who don't play by the book and end up in trouble with the chief, who suspends them, so they're forced to pursue the case independently, all while their rival detectives at the precinct are making fun of the--

I don't really have to go on, do I?

I mean, we've seen this movie before. We've seen it with Bruce Willis before!

More than that, a few cues in the opening scenes tell you that this movie is an homage bordering on parody. It's too '80s, for a movie taking place in 2010. I mean, they didn't open with "The Heat Is On" on the soundtrack, but pretty damn close.

Worst-case scenario for a movie like this, of course, is to be boring. And Cop Out isn't boring. It is a little frenetic, however. It's paced like a zany comedy while the script feels more like it can't decide whether to go for laughs or action, and thinks it can do both better than the '80s flicks could.

It can't, of course: The action/comedy flick was what the '80s did best. Tracy Morgan's a little too Chris Tucker and not enough Danny Glover/Billy Dee Williams/Eddie Murphy. Bruce Willis is a little too much wizened 2010 Willis and not enough smart-ass 1985 Willis. (Remember that? Till Die Hard, Willis was the wise-cracking, glib goof-off who co-starred with Cybill Shepard on "Moonlighting".)

But somebody had to be the straight man and Willis is one of the best. (Also, for a star of his magnitude, you never see him crowding anyone out for screen time. Also, what's he doing in this $30M budget film?)

There are a few twists, a few turns, a climactic shootout scene that isn't the worst I've ever seen. Sean William Scott steals the show in the Joe Pesci role; he plays a goofy cat burglar who delights in tormenting the tortured Morgan (who is wracked with anxiety over his wife's fidelity).

Ultimately, it's a sort of an odd film. It aims low and hits about two-thirds of the time. I think it would've been better had it been played stronger one way or the other: either as a serious attempt to do an '80s cop movie today; or as a subtle but definite parody.

Instead, we're left with a sort of uneven mess that wants us to laugh while showering us with violence.

Which, to be fair, is what a lot of those '80s cop movies were like.

Oh, and I should add: Cop Out made $44M, about 50% more than what it cost to make, and a personal best for Smith. So, far from a complete flop.

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