Let’s Be Cops? Sigh. Let’s not. Let’s do pretty much anything else.
I was just in the mood for something silly last night. I’m getting a little burned out at work; my decision to not take a real summer vacation is looking a little foolhardy in retrospect. The news has also been kind of depressing, with events unfolding in Ferguson, MO and the tensions in multiple places overseas. The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was hearing that Internet trolls forced Robin Williams’ grieving daughter Zelda from social media after posting vitriol and photoshopped photos of her father to her account. Obviously a person having to quit Twitter isn’t in the same ballpark as the suffering elsewhere, but the fact that a woman who just lost her father was gleefully being tormented was just one injustice too much. I needed to laugh and escape for a bit and the new comedy Let’s Be Cops looked like a promising option. A movie about two guys who decide to pretend to be police officers after they are mistaken for real cops while wearing costumes had a ridiculous enough premise that I thought it would be good for some belly laughs and to help me forget all the negativity that seems to be swirling about.
Let’s Be Cops lived up to the ridiculous premise, but unfortunately forgot to bring a ton of laughs with it. Despite the inherent likability of stars Damon Wayons, Jr. and Jake Johnson, the film struggles to be anything more than a one note joke that is stretched over 90+ minutes. The film feels like an overlong sitcom, and if you know me you know that I don’t use the word sitcom as a compliment. The jokes are lazy and predictable and by far the worst offense – just not that funny.
There were potentially some funny directions that they could have taken this nonsense, but I don’t think the people writing this film had much in way of imagination or creativity. I would have respected this movie more if it swung for the fences and missed with its comedy – at least it would have been trying something interesting – but this film is content to instead hit its jokes off a tee, and even then it still misses occasionally. I don’t mind dumb humor if it is done well, but the jokes have to progress or at least do something a little different. Let’s Be Cops came up with an idea – they are pretending to be cops! – and then they pretty much called it a day. If you gave this idea to an adult education beginning screenwriting class, I’m confident that about half the class would write pretty much this exact movie. That’s how predictable this whole affair is. The film also makes an abrupt turn into the realm of action movie, which it doesn’t execute much better than it does the comedy portion.
The only thing that saves this film from being a train wreck is the two stars. Wayans and Johnson are c0-stars on the Fox comedy New Girl and their on-screen chemistry with one another is real. They play well off each other and you totally believe that they are bros; their obvious comfort with each other allows them to do some very silly things. I don’t watch New Girl since I think Zooey Deschanel is some sort of punishment foisted upon humanity, so I was only vaguely aware of Johnson’s work before this movie. But I was a big fan of Wayans’ previous series, Happy Endings, so I knew that he could be quite delightful. Both actors are inherently charming and likable, so even when the story fails them you generally enjoy spending time with them. The duo works really hard to try and mine laughs from the cards that they’ve been dealt and in some cases they create some chuckles from the sheer force of their will. The fact that this film might make a semi-decent rental – or better yet, a movie to watch when it inevitably winds up on FX on a Sunday afternoon – is a credit to them both. Without them in the leads, this film would most likely be a big steaming pile of poo. But they have to put in so much effort that at points the seams begin to show; Wayans has to shriek like a girl for a laugh a few too many times and Johnson fights against making Ryan too boorish. Credit should also be extended to Keegan-Michael Key for his supporting role as a possible informant; he’s great and breathes some much needed life into the film – plus he gives Wayans and Johnson another person to bounce things off of.
Some other thoughts:
- Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) is also in this movie because……wait, why IS she in this movie. My guess is that they threw in a potential love interest because they thought they were supposed to, but she and Wayans have little chemistry and it doesn’t really add much to the film. I like Dobrev, but she’s got very little to do.
- They throw a kid sidekick into the story for the same reason – they are working from a list of sitcom tropes.
- Rob Riggle has a nice turn in the film as an actual police officer. He gets to play against type a bit by being the straight man instead of cracking jokes.
- If I was going to pick a city to pretend I was a cop in, I don’t know that L.A. would be one of my top choices. I’m going out on a limb and guessing that most L.A.P.D. don’t get constant love and respect from the public, who are more than happy to comply with their requests. Just a hunch.
- Given the mess in Ferguson, there really isn’t a worse time for this film to be coming out. There are a few jokes in the film that probably seemed pretty innocent at the time they were written and filmed, but against the backdrop of current events don’t seem so funny.
- Let’s Be Cops relies on a lot of coincidence and happenstance for the narrative (as such) to move along. However, the central foundation of the film – that these two dummies could get their hands on actual police uniforms that just so happened to fit them – is never even adequately explained. Based on their reasoning, it should be pretty easy for me to get my hands of police issued attire.
- There potentially could have been more laughs in the film, but a lot of the funnier material was used for the trailer. Just watch that and you get the highlights.
- The film does not handle exposition particularly well; among the first lines of the film are something similar to: “I was just thinking about how we said if we didn’t make it here by the time we were 30 we would move back to Ohio. We’re 30.” Now that’s some subtle and organic conversation.
There is a fun “buddy cop/bromance” movie to be made with Wayans and Johnson – this just isn’t it. This film has a ton of flaws that would be forgivable – or at least easier to ignore – if it was simply funnier. Make me laugh and I’ll forget a lot of sins. Low brow or silly humor can totally work when it is done right; give me a creative set-up for the joke or simply surprise me and I’m probably going to be happy. But creating a movie around something that might not even be the A story on a sitcom and then not even trying to do anything other the obvious jokes is a real disservice to all the actors involved. There are a few genuine laughs in Let’s Be Cops, but they are too few and far between to make this a film worth seeing in the theater. Let’s Be Cops feels like a movie that was rejected by a lot of other people before it fell to Wayans and Johnson; you can almost hear Seth Rogan and James Franco saying “nah, I think we’ll pass” as you are watching it. I don’t begrudge Wayans and Johnson for taking a chance on breaking on to the big screen, but I wish they has chosen a project that was a better showcase for their talents.
Let’s Be Cops opened nationwide on Wednesday.