This action comedy from director Kevin Smith, starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan as two NYPD veterans in search of a stolen vintage baseball card, used to be called A Couple of Dicks. Yes, that’s right. Cop Out is Kevin Smith’s first foray into full-fledged big-studio moviemaking (the studio being Warner Brothers). Word is that the suits made Smith change the his title and kept Smith’s name out of the trailers, for fear of alienating a broad audience. So apparently there is a difference between the lowest common denominator and the broadest possible audience. Thank you, Warners, for reminding us: It’s about the nuances.
Who’s Turner and who’s Hooch? Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis play a bumbling detective duo in Cop Out.
Cop Out is also the first film Smith has directed that he didn’t write. That act, in this case, was perpetrated by brothers Mark and Robb Cullen. Clearly Smith is not territorial. Everything about this movie has already been vetted, and dissipated through the pop-culture machine—right down to the synthy, hooky music by Harold Faltermeyer, here semi-spoofing his own highly contagious ditties from his glory days in the 1980s.
Now consider the package. First, take a moment to laugh at the innuendo in that phrase, “considering the package,” because you’ll need that kind of sense of humor to get through this. Next, think about what we have here. Morgan is funny. Willis is Willis. The genre is gratifying, and the style is self-effacing. So what could possibly go wrong?
The poo and penis jokes should come as no surprise, as Seann William Scott shows up in the trailer too. It’s the bits like that overlong and not-funny-enough movie-referencing interrogation scene that seem so Smith. And accordingly, because they’re bulky and tedious, the scenes become obscene.
Here’s the setup: Willis owns a valuable baseball card, and he needs to sell it to pay for his daughter’s wedding so that his ex-wife’s smug new husband won’t rob him of that privilege. Morgan, meanwhile, worries about his own wife’s fidelity. Working their way through several laugh-resistant sequences and a few cheap-o stunts, the partners botch a job and get suspended. They come across Scott, who plays a squirrelly, annoying thief. They tangle with a murderous Mexican drug lord (Guillermo Diaz), who does brutal things, but seems too bland or goofy to worry about. That too is a sort of tradition in movies like this: the silliness neutralizes the menace, letting us know it’s all in fun. Or should be.
Smith has a way of degrading an already abject formula even further, to numbingly trivial ends. The rest is just Morgan mugging and Willis relaxing, as if he’s only in this as a favor for a friend.
Kevin Pollak and Adam Brody co-star as a pair of ball-busting, quasi-obstructionist fellow cops. “You should know better,” Willis says to Pollak in one scene, with the same resigned it-works-on-multiple-levels ring as the movie’s studio-corrected title.