Monday, October 04, 2010

 

I hope the paycheck was nice


By Edward Copeland
Of all the things I expected to cross my mind when I decided to watch Cop Out, the first film directed by Kevin Smith from a screenplay he did not write a possibility I never considered was The King & I. However, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical kept popping into my head, not because of any plot similarities, but because I kept hearing Yul Brynner singing "Is a Puzzlement."


Cop Out, I suppose, aims to be a comic buddy cop film with some action pairing Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. Unfortunately, Willis seems unusually lifeless and Morgan seems to be doing the same shtick that he always does. As a result, it's just not that funny.

The screenplay by Mark Cullen & Robb Cullen spins a story where after Jimmy and Paul (Willis, Morgan) screw up a setup and end up getting an informant killed, they get suspended without pay for nine days and step on the toes of a narcotics detective (Kevin Pollak) whose long-term investigation gets mucked up by the mess.

To make things even worse, Jimmy's daughter Ava (Michelle Trachtenberg) soon will walk down the aisle and wants a dream wedding that dad can't afford (the musicians she covets are $48,000 alone). Her stepdad (Jason Lee) offers to pay, but Jimmy is too proud to let the man who wed his ex-wife pay so he plans to sell a valuable baseball card he owns to cover the costs. Unfortunately, the card ends up in the hands of the same drug-dealing bad guys responsible for the mess that got him and Paul suspended in the first place.

Smith always has been brutally honest that his weakness as a filmmaker lies in his visual style and to his credit, he has improved and does show some nice touches here. Too bad it comes at the service at such a lousy story. What boggles my mind is what attracted him to this script in the first place. While Smith's own screenplays have produced mixed results, he's never made one completely devoid of at least a fair amount of good dialogue. That's why it's surprising that there's so little to like in Cop Out. You'd think he'd recognize the problem and do some on-set rewriting, even if he didn't get screen credit for it, but nothing the actors say sound remotely as if Kevin Smith had a hand in its writing.

If the story weren't enough to sink this cinematic ship, the lead actors seem as if they're busy poking holes in the boat. Willis looks and acts as if he'd rather be somewhere else (though I can relate). Morgan's familiar act plays as if it's a 45 single running on 33 rpm speed (my age is showing) which only makes his blather even more annoying.

The only actor who gives the film any marginal sign of life is Seann William Scott in an all-too-brief appearance as a thief that tries to help the cops out. He actually manages to be funny. I assume that's why he disappears quickly so as to not seem so out of place. It's also refreshing to briefly see Susie Essman of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame.

Granted, Smith has been in a bit of a rut in terms of his own material, so I can respect his decision to try to direct someone else's screenplay, but next time he tries this, he should really get his hands on a much better script or one that he can improve with his own words.

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