Cop Out

This action comedy from director-editor Kevin Smith, starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan as two New York detectives in search of a stolen vintage baseball card, used to be called “A Couple of Dicks.”

Yes, that’s right. Kevin Smith. It’s his first foray into full-fledged big-studio moviemaking (the studio being Warner Brothers), and word is, in the same way the suits made Smith change the his title, they also kept his name out of the trailers — for fear of alienating the broadest possible 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.

Now let’s consider the package. First, take a moment to laugh at the innuendo of considering a package, because you’ll need a sense of humor like that to get through this. Next, think about what we have here. Morgan is funny. Willis is Willis. The genre is inherently gratifying, and the style is self-effacing. What could possibly go wrong?

The poo and penis jokes should come as no surprise, as Seann William Scott shows up in the trailers too. It’s the bits like that ultimately overlong and under-funny movie-referencing interrogation scene that seem particularly Smithish, and accordingly, on account of bulk and tedium, become obscene.

Here’s the setup: The baseball card belongs to Willis, and it’s valuable, 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. And: action.

Working their way through several laugh-resistant sequences and a few cheap-o stunts, the partners botch a job and get suspended for a month. They come across Scott’s squirrelly and deliberately annoying thief. They tangle with a murderous Mexican drug lord (Guillermo Diaz), who is shown doing brutal things but seems too bland or goofy to really 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 and nothing truly frightening will happen. And nothing truly interesting either; Smith has a way of degrading an already abject formula even further, to numbingly trivial ends. “Cop Out” doesn’t seem to have the mind for satire, nor the energy for thorough parody. It’s just sort of lazily, goofily affectionate toward its various black guy-white guy cop-movie ancestors. The rest is just Morgan mugging, albeit sometimes brilliantly, and Willis relaxing, as if he’s only in this as a favor for a friend.

“Cop Out” is also the first film Smith has directed that he didn’t write. That solemn doodie went to brothers Mark and Robb Cullen. But clearly Smith is not territorial. Everything about this movie — right down to the synthy, hooky music by Harold Faltermeyer, here semi-spoofing his own highly contagious ditties from the 1980s glory days — already has been vetted, and dissipated, through the pop-culture machine.

Kevin Pollak and Adam Brody also are on hand as a pair of ball-busting, quasi-obstructionist fellow cops. “You should know better,” Willis says to Pollak in one scene, with the same it-works-on-multiple-levels ring of resignation as the movie’s studio-corrected title.

Which, by the way, seems like a logical compromise: just dully witty enough to acknowledge its own sad suitability. As if that will suffice to make the actual movie any good. Regarding the original title, one last thing: It’s important to point out that W.C. Fields once made a movie called “The Bank Dick,” if only to then express the obligatory horror at having mentioned Fields and Kevin Smith in the same sentence.

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