Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Cop Out" Review

The advanced screening of "Cop Out" I attended probably couldn't have played to a more appreciative audience. It was a packed house at the Prince, and everyone had come to laugh—even when Bruce Willis and Tracey Morgan weren't saying or doing anything particularly funny. Still, it was hard not to crack a smile when the audience's uproarious response overwrote entire stanzas of dialogue.

I make no apologies for having enjoyed myself watching Kevin Smith's forgettable new comedy, but take heed, I saw it under probably the best possible circumstance.

And yet, it's not a matter of sheer infectious giggles. The following night, I listened to idiots yuk their way through "Hot Tub Time Machine," which served to only compound my bitter contempt for its lethargic joke-writing. And if "Hot Tub" was lazy, then my experience with "Cop Out" was laissez-faire, in which I found myself perfectly content to let the goofy plot unravel, and even between the lines, Willis and Morgan seemed to be having a genuinely good time.

For as important as it is, context is rarely credited in opinion. For example, I had a great time watching shit like, "Wolverine" and "Fame" because I saw them with friends at the drive-in. I hated "Rocky Horror Picture Show" because I watched it alone in my room, and I enjoyed "Cop Out" because there was a potent positive energy in that theater. I'd probably agree with Smith's harshest critics on a point-by-point basis of why it isn't a great film, but I can't deny that for me, the experience remains a net positive memory.

The chorus goes something like, 'When the plot isn't cliched, it's arbitrary; the humor is reliably sophomoric; as a director, Smith is an absentee.' Check, check, and definitely check. Not only is "Cop Out" Smith’s first collaboration with another writer, but (probably as a defense mechanism following the unsatisfactory box office performance of "Zack and Miri Make a Porno") he seems to remove himself from the equation altogether. The film appropriately adapts a visual style closer to that of a police drama than to "Clerks," and the implication seems to be that if "Cop Out" is a commercial failure, at least no one can blame it on Smith.

The problem, though, is that he recedes entirely into the background, and while many of the performances are amusing, they generally rely on tried and true shtick that Smith's direction seems to have little to do with. Perhaps his transparency accounts for the film feeling sometimes aimless, but he gets the job done, and not especially poorly. He does have a somewhat lame villain on his hands, whose scenes feel like dead weight in a film that has no business exceeding ninety minutes, and a final shoot-out that devolves into a series of unearned violent gags that come completely out of left field.

But with exception to the above gripes, "Cop Out" is a good-natured diversion undeserving of the incredible rancor with which it's been met. My review is somewhat hypocritical by design in that I find myself coming to its defense though my thesis boils down to little more than, "It's better than bad."

"Cop Out," unlike truly, aggressively unfunny comedies I hear praise for each year (see: "Hot Tub Time Machine"--or actually, don't see it) is an absent minded piece of escapism that frequently isn't laugh inducing, but does have a certain amusing air that makes it an easy watch.

I can't speak to how "Cop Out" will play alone in your room when it hits DVD; an audience like mine is tough to come by. Not just any crowd can make mediocrity shine.


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