Sunday, September 5, 2010

Cop Out

Upon the lukewarm-to-awful critical response to his latest film Cop Out (19% on Rotten Tomatoes), Kevin Smith lost his goddamn mind. I won't copy and paste his entire rant because it's one of the most excruciating and embarrassing things ever, but I do want to highlight one particularly relevant portion. Smith says:

"You wanna enjoy movies again? Stop reading about them & just go to the movies. It’s improved film/movie appreciation immensely for me. Seriously: so many critics lined-up to pull a sad & embarrassing train on Cop Out like it was Jennifer Jason Leigh in Last Exit to Brooklyn. Watching them beat the shit out of it was sad. Like, it’s called Cop Out; that sound like a very ambitious title to you? You REALLY wanna shit in the mouth of a flick that so OBVIOUSLY strived for nothing more than laughs. Was it called Schindler’s Cop Out?"

Oh dear. I hardly even know where to begin. Frankly, this shit is far more interesting and worthy of criticism than the film itself. You could point out Kevin Smith's stunning short-term memory, lambasting film criticism when critical acclaim is why Clerks developed a following and ignited his career back in 1994. You could point out the hypocrisy of Kevin Smith guesting on Ebert & Roeper multiple times during Ebert's illness back in 2006, notably giving a thumbs down to Woody Allen's Scoop while proclaiming it "just not funny." He was right, of course, but, like, it's called Scoop; that sound like a very ambitious title to you? Was it called Schindler's Scoop?

Or you could simply point out that if Smith wants to alleviate criticism of his work then throwing a hissy fit is probably, short of making indisputably good films, the worst possible way to do it. Think back on your own life experiences: has a hissy fit ever once improved anyone's standing in your eyes? The answer is no. Critics love shitting on Aaron Selzter and Jason Friedberg (Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie, and Vampires Suck come out to an average Tomatometer of 3.6%), but can you imagine how much more they would love it if Seltzer and Friedberg didn't maintain their trademark silence and instead decided to piss and moan and cry about it?

Above all else though I find the general spirit of his words kind of loathsome. Not the part where he goes after critics, because lord knows I sometimes find film critics to be boring and predictable, with certain buttons to push (the Holocaust indeed being one of them) that will make acclaim spill out as surely as if you put a quarter in a gumball machine. But the idea that it's okay to make mediocre movies as long as they're intended to be mediocre is inexcusable, already sadly widespread, and needs to be extinguished, not have its flames fanned.

If you have the courage (and, let's be honest, stupidity) to trudge into message boards for soulless studio dreck like Clash of the Titans or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen you'll find plenty of idiots who passionately feel that these films deserve acclaim and should be immune from criticism by the mere fact that they exist; that demanding more from your entertainment is inherently wrong. This view is a cancer to the very concept of worthwhile film that excuses, no, encourages studios to churn out unimaginative crap for a quick buck, and it's a shame to see a filmmaker that commanded as much indie cred as Kevin Smith circa the late 90s to throw his lot in with their ilk.

Perhaps the greatest irony of it all is that Cop Out actually isn't that bad. By no means great or even good, but I do think the parade of one-star reviews I read were excessive and almost certainly more hyperbolic than they would have been had the film come from some anonymous no-name. We'll put it this way: it's definitely better than Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

The story is about a cop played by Bruce Willis who has his rare baseball card he was going to sell to finance his daughter's wedding stolen, with the pursuit of it bringing him and his partner played by Tracy Morgan into conflict with a drug lord. But the story is irrelevant. This is a movie about a premise, not a story, and that premise is to watch John McClane from Die Hard and Tracy Jordan from 30 Rock bullshitting around and being cops together. Those aren't what the characters are named but they might as well be because that's clearly who Kevin Smith wanted them to play and the actors make absolutely no attempt to distance themselves from those roles. As an action-comedy the movie fails because Smith's action scenes have no energy or creativity, but viewed as a strict comedy I laughed a handful of times simply because it can be funny to watch John McClane and Tracy Jordan rub up against one another... if it doesn't just remind you that you'd rather be watching Die Hard or 30 Rock.

The film's pacing is somewhat slack. Tracy Morgan's character brings the momentum crashing to a halt every ten minutes or so with a terrible subplot about how he suspects his wife (played by Rashida Jones of The Office and Parks and Recreation fame, likable but bland here) is cheating on him. This subplot is never funny and makes the mistake of thinking we have any interest whatsoever in exploring the psyche of such a cartoonish, absurd character. Bruce Willis also has some personal angst about his strained relationship with his daughter, which isn't great, but at least it ties into the main storyline so it's not as tedious as Tracy Morgan's marital issues.

So there's a few shootouts, a few chases, clues are followed, Tracy Morgan acts wacky, Bruce Willis swears a lot, and yes, the captain asks for their guns and badges at one point. This film is not here to innovate and save for a couple of Star Wars references it contains none of Smith's personality, just pure, bland, made-by-committee buddy cop formula. While I was by no means offended (or at least I wouldn't have been if Smith had kept his mouth shut) it's certainly one of the least essential works of the year; even substantially worse films offer more to talk about. The fact that holding this opinion still probably makes me one of the film's biggest defenders probably says all that needs to be said about whether or not you should watch it.

2 Stars out of 5

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