After watching The Book of Eli on the plane, I wanted something a little lighter. So I gave Cop Out a try. This isn't something that, based on the poor reviews, I would have watched under most circumstances. But I wasn't doing anything else on the plane, so why not?
The movie is a buddy cop comedy and it sets out to be today's answer to the comic cop movies of the 1980s -- they even got the composer who did the Beverly Hills Cop movies to do a similar score for this one. There's about a half hour of good material in this movie, which mostly comprises the times they are directly alluding to other movies and their themes; and then, there's another hour and a half of movie, which ultimately fails to be either a good cop movie or a good comedy, but instead lurches back and forth between these. I don't know if I could have captured the magic in a bottle that made Fletch and Beverly Hills Cop work -- especially without Chevy Chase or Eddie Murphy to work with. I'm not sure what specifically made the balance of comedy and plot, and their interweaving, work, but then, I'm not a filmmaker. Kevin Smith thinks he could do it. Turns out he couldn't.
That said, as idle entertainment during a long flight, it's not bad. It had a few good moments and jokes scattered throughout it. Ana de la Reguera's performance was surprisingly amusing given that she got little to do and never got to speak English other than "hi" -- in part, her ferocity and conviction come across very well. Bruce Willis is coasting, but only because that's the right thing to do in this role. Tracy Morgan gets some of the best lines, but when they work, it's in spite of, not because of, his delivery -- he's perching midway between the Wayans Brothers and Eddie Murphy, and that's a bad midway point to stand at. And he's just not convincing as a seasoned cop, not at all.
Seann William Scott's character serves almost no purpose but to be annoying. They bring him in as a plot device, and then bury him after fifteen minutes of tedious stretching out of two jokes. Then when we've managed to forget about him, they dredge him back up for another ten minutes of reprising those same jokes. Turns out the second use of him as a plot device is ultimately futile: the reason they brought him out doesn't pan out, and the story advances as if he hadn't been there. Almost as if the filmmakers are pinning a light on this fact, the character gets removed in the most anticlimactic, facepalm-inspiring bit of nothing imaginable. Then they refuse to ever come back to the consequences of that moment. There's absolutely no reason not to edit him right out of the movie, except that it would come out a half hour too short that way. That's what too much of the movie is like.
In all, the movie's best laugh comes in the first ten minutes, and it's a breaking-the-fourth-wall moment that happens in the middle of a long string of deliberate quotes of other movies, buried in a meta-joke about the role of "homage" in movies. That long string of quotes itself goes on way too long and takes way too many turns into least-common-denominator-ville. Tracy Morgan really can't carry it off -- he takes the cheap path of gross exaggeration almost every chance he gets. It's a great laugh to play with Bruce Willis's character not recognizing a catchphrase from one of the best-known Bruce Willis franchises, but it's also the kind of cheap joke that earns the filmmakers no credit at all.
I also found the final scene a great letdown. What I suppose we were meant to see as a comeuppance for a pompous, pretentious character actually comes off as a compeletely unjustifiable and unfair dirty trick. Bruce's character agrees to do something -- he wasn't forced to at gunpoint, so he must have done so because he felt like he had to -- and then in the last moment someone else arranges that he simply gets to back out of that agreement. There's nothing in how it was done that actually changes anything about why he agreed, so it's just a roundabout way of having him refuse again. It is, both from the perspective of the characters and of the writers, a cop-out.
But I suppose that's okay, since the movie is named that. In fact, all the movie's shortcomings are cop-outs, but since the movie is named that, maybe we can forgive them all. Unless that, too, would be a cop-out. Maybe it is. And maybe we should forgive that one, too.
If you're ever trapped on a plane and there's nothing better than this, watch it. Otherwise, watch the first ten minutes, then go watch Beverly Hills Cop again. You'll enjoy it more, and even if you've seen it ten times, it'll still have more suspense.