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Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis in the failed '80s throwback Cop Out.

1 out of 4 stars


Cop Out

  • Directed by Kevin Smith
  • Written by Robb Cullen and Mark Cullen
  • Starring Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Adam Brody, Kevin Pollack and Sean William Scott
  • Classification: 14A

Black and white is American slang for a police car. So we shouldn't be surprised Hollywood cop films have evolved into black-and-white buddy movies: Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black; Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours; Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon.

Those movies played roughly with America's hopes and fears. Probably it was the roughhousing that made them fun. In an era of politically correct public discourse, how liberating and reassuring was it to see blacks and whites cursing and pushing each other around, yet always ending up friends.

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The new Bruce Willis-Tracy Morgan fails as a comedy-drama because it's neither funny nor involving. But it fails as a buddy movie because Willis and Morgan make for a dull couple. Their characters have no epic, blasphemous fights. No tender reconciliations. Every screen romance, even a buddy-buddy fling needs tension. The cops here aren't passionate enough. They're not really buddies. Just friends.

The film opens with detectives, Jimmy (Willis) and Paul (Morgan) fouling up an interrogation when Morgan figures he'll impress Willis with his bad-actor chops. Going into Tasmanian Devil mode, the detective hurries through impersonations of movie cops from Sidney Poitier ( In the Heat of the Night) to Denzel Washington ( Training Day). Shaking his head in wonderment, Jimmy cracks that his partner can riff on "anything on cable."

Director Kevin Smith ( Clerks) no doubt liked that last line. Working with someone else's script for once - and a bad one at that - the slacker auteur clearly felt, hey, why not camp out on all the old action-movie junk that plays late night on American cable. The film begins with the Beastie Boys' 1987 party anthem No Sleep Till Brooklyn. And for the next two hours, there is no rest for pop-culture sleuths as Cop Out morphs into a two-hour trivial-pursuit contest.

The plot has Jimmy trying to recover a treasured baseball card (Andy Pafko) that he hopes to sell to pay for his daughter's marriage. Paul, meanwhile, is going insane, worrying that his wife is messing around. Speaking of cop outs, the black-and-white buddy movie also has Mexican bad guys running around killing people.

But all of the frantic action merely serves as a backdrop for a steady stream of movie and comic-book references - Robocop, Cool Hand Luke, The Matrix, X-Men and yippie kai yay, Bruce Willis's own Die Hard. The toughest part of the buddy-movie pop-culture quiz is the soundtrack, which sounds familiar but hard to place. There's a reason. (Spoiler alert!) Director Smith has hired synthesizer fiend Harold Faltermeyer to do the music. Faltermeyer's heyday was the eighties, when he scored Beverly Hills Cops, Top Gun and Tango & Cash.

Willis pretends not to get the reference to Die Hard. In fact, he appears baffled throughout. That's actually not a bad dramatic choice. He's got nothing to do here, but offer up indulgent smiles as partner Tracy Morgan acts like a complete gibbering idiot - crying, drooling, wiping a runny nose on his sleeve.

Who knows what Morgan is up to? He's very funny in the TV sitcom 30 Rock, where he plays a dim, dysfunctional star. Here, his under-the-bottom performance seems a form of sabotage.

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One more eighties pop-culture reference: Cop Out is the worst and most disappointing cop buddy movie since City Heat with Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood in 1984.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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