Let's be Cops
2014, 104mins, 15
Director: Luke Greenfield
Writer (s): Luke Greenfield, Nicholas Thomas
Cast includes: Damon Wayans Jr, Jake Johnson, Nina Dobrev, Rob Riggle, James D'Arcy, Keegan Michael-Key
UK Release Date: 27th August 2014
In the third season of FX's celebrated “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia” there exists an episode during which several of the show's deadbeat leads imitate law enforcement, using the social standing of an Officer's badge in the pursuit of free meals from street vendors. The instalment lasts for about 20 minutes; in that time successfully mining the limited conceit for maximum laughter, and giving Charlie Day the chance to give a remarkably good Al Pacino impression. “Let''s be Cops” is essentially that same TV program dragged out to 104 minutes, almost seven years later and with fewer laughs. Directed by Luke Greenfield (2004's underrated “The Girl Next Door”), “Let's be Cops is broad, sitcomish cinema, only occasionally redeemed by the high octane energy of “New Girl”'s Jake Johnson.
After spending the better part of a decade trying to send their LA dreams into orbit, room-mates Justin (Damon Wayans Jr) and Ryan (Jake Johnson) are ready to pack it in and move back to Ohio. Justin's passive demeanour has prevented much creative advancement in the video-game industry, whist Ryan can't even hold down a job, instead choosing to relive past footballing glories with groups of children at local parks. After misunderstanding the requirements of a masquerade ball, the pair find themselves dejectedly walking the streets in police uniform; yet unsurprisingly, even with faux-power comes respect. Women, past tormentors and just about everybody else in society is willing to give the boys a chance when they come with a badge and gun, leading Ryan to take a full-time interest in feigning police employment. However, when one of his busts goes bad, the fake cops find themselves at the mercy of local thug Mossi (James D'Arcy), a well connected heavy who becomes intent on bringing the goof-balls down.
Jake Johnson is the clear MVP here, the TV star envisaging “Let's be Cops” as a chance to crack the big-time. The performer works remarkably hard to mine even the most listless of sequences for laughs, aided by an only half-invested Damon Wayans Jr. The humour is mouldy and unappealing, beginning with a cheap Backstreet Boys gag and graduating on to equally unambitious crotchshots and casual racism. Johnson at least gives every gag his all, even those fundamentally unworthy, basking the film in game physicality, taking each humiliation in his playful stride. His chemistry with Wayans is believable, and their fratboy rapport is less obnoxious than expected, but it's all “Let's be Cops” really has to offer. The scripted set-pieces feel outdated and obvious, victims of weak punchlines and a raft of offensive supporting characters. “Let's be Cops” makes glaring use of scummy foreigner and sleazy nympho archetypes, deploying them as excuses upon which to parade the sort of stale vulgarity one associates with a pre-Apatow Hollywood. The film-makers would probably jump to describe the feature as a return to a simplified, classical buddy-movie format. It's actually indicative of the comedic dead-zone which allowed “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” and “The Wedding Crashers” to prosper a decade ago.
It's disappointing to see Luke Greenfield's name at the helm, a director who has in the past managed much better. His fruity and heartfelt “The Girl Next Door” was “Risky Business” light, but it boasted a solid understanding of raunchy screen foreplay, and crucially some suggestion that it comprehended the differences between film and TV. That gap is admittedly always closing, but not to the degree such limited production detail or the point and click camerawomen of “Let's be Cops” should be permitted. A frighteningly bland arrangement of barely furnished interiors, “Let's be Cops” never feels like any care has been extolled on its presentation. The film cost only a modest $17 million, hardly a bank-busting total to work with, but other comedies this year have achieved much more with not a lot less. The Seth Rogen headed “Bad Neighbours” cost $18 million, yet found the time to construct lived in sets and shots that actually permeated a cinematic aura. The resistance of this vehicle to even halfway match such modest accomplishment only undermines its laziness.
The film tries to forage out some weight during its final act, requesting audiences to lend a sympathetic hand toward its aimless protagonists, throwing a few additional characters into the mix for the purpose of electrifying the recipe. One surprising, high-profile addition provides some needed menace, but D'Arcy's sculpted loon is a cardboard sneer, and the final shoot-out not nearly involving enough to incur investment. By that time the premise and its contents have worn spectacularly thin, unveiled as the one-joke trick that just about sustained a decent sitcom episode seven years ago. “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia” remains a vibrant and unique cocktail, one in which ideas and surreal invention trump conceptual superficiality and aesthetic constraint. It's also available as part of your NetFlix subscription. So instead of dabbling in the uneven and irregular pleasures of the underachieving “Let's be Cops”, I recommend a money-saving night with the proprietors of Paddy's Pub. Unlike these dumb-dumbs, they won't aggressively enforce the right to remain silent.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014