There really is no good reason to recommend “Cop Out.” There are, however, about a dozen bad ones, starting with the fact that it’s the first gross-out comedy to come along since “The Hangover” that is actually a comedy and not just gross, although make no mistake, gross it is -- this is a Kevin Smith film after all -- so don’t say you weren’t warned.
But there is enough ridiculous fun in the Tracy Morgan- Bruce Willis pairing as two of Brooklyn’s “finest” to get many of you past the squirm-inducing stuff, like the graphic poop jokes, though the sheer verbal dexterity of the screenplay on the subject is so disgustingly inspired at times that the rest of you will be wiping away tears. I’d give you an example, but nothing would make it past the censors here.
“Clerks” director Smith, most recently in the news for supposedly having a wider body than the Southwest plane he was kicked off of, has brought the best of his slacker auteur sensibility to the buddy-cop tradition. I mean he made Bruce Willis the adult, instead of a gun-toting nutcase who needs a minder.
If you know Tracy Morgan from “30 Rock,” where he plays a very thinly disguised version of his comedy club shtick via a character named Tracy Jordan, there’s more of him to love or loathe. Surprisingly -- thanks to what may be the perfect lowbrow teaming of comic, director and screenwriters -- the shtick mostly sustains past the two-minute mark, what he usually gets on TV.
It all starts on the buddies’ ninth anniversary as partners, which Paul (Morgan) wants to celebrate, he even bought a card for heaven’s sake, and Jimmy (Willis) would rather forget. But that Hallmark moment softens Jimmy up and he folds, sort of, letting Paul take on the interrogation of a small-time drug dealer. That turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving as Morgan lifts line after line from all his favorite movies; “Scarface,” he mouths to the two-way window at one point, where a crowd of cops has gathered to keep score.
Morgan isn’t the only one stealing scenes -- the filmmakers liberally pick up as many buddy cop clichés as they can carry and play them to the max. The make-them-hand-over-their-badges-and-guns-in-the-middle-of-a-big-case-there’s-no-way-they’ll-walk-away-from bit, and the we-don’t-have-a-clue-but-we’ll-definitely-get-in-your-way-by-making-stupid-moves narc team of Kevin Pollak and Adam Brody, are among the more significant.
But there is much more irreverence to be found in the blueprint from Mark and Robb Cullen, the writing brothers behind TV’s “Lucky” and “Las Vegas” who are making their screenwriting debut here. They’ve given a very capable cast a lot to play with.
Willis turns out to be a good foil for Morgan, creating a wall of amused restraint for the hyperbolic comic to bounce off of. Meanwhile, Pollak just looks perpetually amused by the proceedings, whether the scene calls for it or not, but somehow it works anyway.
Driving the action is a completely insane Mexican drug kingpin (Guillermo Diaz) with a baseball jones that proves to be a critical fact to tuck away. Driving Paul and Jimmy insane is a completely crazy Parkour burglar, a strangely engaging Seann William Scott. There is a kidnapped Spanish spitfire named Gabriela (Ana De La Reguera) and in keeping with the film’s completely un-PC approach, she can’t speak a word of English so “stuff” happens. And in keeping with classic buddy-cop conventions, Jimmy has a daughter ( Michelle Trachtenberg) to disappoint, and both guys have problems with their wives, current and ex.
Car chases too
While “Cop Out” has moments that lag and there are times when the dialogue is truly cringe-worthy (and not just because it’s gross), the Cullens hit more than they miss. If you’re worried they’ve gone soft on the action, there are more than enough well-crafted shootouts and car chases to keep the adrenaline junkies in the room satisfied.
The Cullens’ particular brand of off-center off-color turns out to suit the director’s tastes just fine. After some rough sledding, Smith seems like he’s come home in “Cop Out,” with his loose, easy style helping to take the edge off the R rating. And that is good news, since even when he’s bad -- say, ’95’s “Mallrats” misfire -- as a filmmaker Smith is always interesting (let’s give him a pass for “Jersey Girl”).
The director has a distinctive way with satire, keeping the cuts below the belt and always sharp whether directed at religion ('99’s “Dogma”) or porn (2008’s better-than-its-box-office “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”). It’s in the execution of high concepts where Smith sometimes gets lost, but that doesn’t happen here. There isn’t a high concept in sight.