MOVIE REVIEW- <i>Cop</i> sop: Smith should have been Smithee


Over the years, director Kevin Smith has reportedly been attached to various major studio projects, most notably The Green Hornet, but the first to come to fruition is Cop Out. It will probably make more money than all eight of Smith's previous features combined. That's why they call it "selling out" instead of "giving out."

The guy's got bills to pay (those extra seats on airplanes aren't cheap), and entertaining a cult-sized fanbase doesn't always cut it, so I guess we can forgive him this trespass; but as part of his fanbase, I wish Smith had put Alan Smithee's name on Cop Out instead of sullying his official record. Jersey Girl"was bad enough.

The first film Smith directed but didn't write, Cop Out, shows how pottymouth humor, in English and Spanish, can just sound smutty when there's no wit behind it. Smith's other work elevated it to an art form.

Tackling the tired police buddy comedy genre, Smith might have satirized what went before instead of emulating it. Instead, he's just made another one, and not as good as most that preceded it.

Jim (Bruce Willis) and Paul (Tracy Morgan) have been partners in the NYPD for nine years. From what we see of their work, they shouldn't have lasted nine days. They're not exactly mavericks (Sarah Palin's ruined that word), but they're not team players. They're more incompetent than unorthodox, and each is more concerned with personal problems than his work.

Jim needs money because his daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg) is getting married and her wealthy stepfather (Jason Lee) has offered to pay for the wedding. Paul is paranoid about the possibility of his wife Debbie (Rashida Jones) cheating on him.

When Jim goes to sell his 1952 Andy Pafko baseball card for wedding money, the store is robbed while Paul stands outside arguing with Debbie on the phone. The card is sold to Mexican drug kingpin Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz), who is tied to other crimes these guys have been investigating.

Also on the trail of the drug cartel is rival cop team Hunsaker (Kevin Pollak) and Mangold (Adam Brody). Jim and Paul not only don't cooperate with them, but continue to work after they've been suspended. Besides the criminal negligence and dereliction of duty they're guilty of on the job, our heroes commit countless crimes by impersonating police officers when they're not supposed to be working.

Indicative of why Smith shouldn't play in the majors, the working title for this movie was A Couple of Dicks. Cop Out was the compromise he worked out with Warner Bros. Surely there were other compromises. Smith couldn't have thought he could make a good movie from the script by Robb Cullen and Mark Cullen, which sounds computer-generated.

Cop Out hits all the requisite notes. There's contrast between the partners. "White Lightning" is quiet and calm, "Black Thunder" loud and manic. They bicker but have each other's backs. There's a chase or shootout every few minutes. For Smith fans, there's lots of male bonding humor, some of it gay-ish. You might call the heroes J. and Chatty Bob– er, Paul.

Willis rarely breaks a sweat, letting Morgan do the heavy lifting. Morgan overdoes everything. In an early sequence where he uses lines from other movies to interrogate a suspect, he shouts so much you can't understand half of what he says, spoiling the joke.

Ironically, minor players are responsible for the two best scenes. Susie Essman as an angry homeowner and Marcus Morton as an 11-year-old car thief get more laughs in a couple of minutes than the stars do in nearly two hours.

Yes, there are laughs in Cop Out, but with a relentless barrage of attempts at humor, the batting average is scandalously low. The movie would have to be much, much funnier to excuse the ridiculousness of the plot.

The only good news for Kevin Smith fans is that Cop Out makes us realize that Jersey Girl wasn't so bad after all.