½ out of 4 stars
The trailer looked lame, let’s not kid ourselves.
Those two guys from New Girl that aren’t Max Greenfield know their comedy, but Let’s Be Cops already seemed to have worn out its welcome from the moment we saw the plot outline. And unfortunately the final product does not provide any pleasant surprises. The unfortunate cast have no truly original or sensible gags to play and are left spinning their wheels after a chuckle-worthy premise plays out to its inevitable end halfway through the film and leaves room for nothing else but cop drama.
Ryan (Jake Johnson) and Justin (Damon Wayans, Jr.) hate their lives. Ryan lives off of money from a (quite funny) commercial gig, but has accomplished little else thanks to an injury that left him unable to pursue a football career. And Justin works at a video game company that uses and abuses his talent endlessly.
One night the two come to their college reunion costume (or is it?) party dressed as cops, but discover that everyone around them along the way actually believes them to be the real deal. The two begin having some fun with this discovery: stopping random people on the street, getting into whatever clubs they like, etc.
As they make the gag more and more elaborate, they stumble upon a Russian crime ring headed by the ruthless Mossi (James D’Arcy) who feels slighted by them because of Justin’s newfound relationship with Mossi’s perceived love interest Josie (Nina Dobrev). Ryan and Justin find themselves in over their heads when their tangle with the mobsters gets them involved with real police, including the goofy but well intentioned Officer Segars (Rob Riggle).
What we have here is a case of a two-minute joke stretched out into a two-hour one. Writers Luke Greenfield (The Animal and The Girl Next Door) and Nicholas Thomas have taken a decent, not great gag about “slackers disguised as cops” and attempted to give it some gravity and some plot.
But the overtly serious bits mix awkwardly with the edgy antics of the two heroes, like a TNT drama got slapped onto the tail end of a screwball comedy. The third act does not pull its punches where urgency and stakes are concerned, and the humor disappears completely, leaving us uncomfortable.
If the buddy cop genre is being attempted here, more balance is required. Not to mention the message being sent maybe could have been tweaked a bit. If we are trying to convince an audience that actions with life-sentence consequences turn out for the best, we need some Looney Toon level stakes (which we do not have here).
Even if the lack of tonal consistency were forgivable, the more dangerous sin lies in the lazy lowbrow humor. More tasteless humor needs a careful hand to elicit laughs, a hand Greenfield (as director) does not quite have yet. The jokes, more importantly, need much more pizazz and purpose. The one-liners never land and seem to have only been funny in inception. And a random gag about a naked sumo wrestler (it’s in there) just causes confusion instead of laughter. Most of the gags stray from the plot in this way, almost as if this endeavor truly just started as a set of scenes intended for a “Funny or Die” video starring “those guys from New Girl”.
Johnson does his job here. He knows how to hit beats right and play the more dramatic material with finesse. He unfortunately just never becomes relatable, in fact striking us mostly as whiny and entitled, primarily because of his bland material. Wayans, Jr. fares better, mostly because he gets a killer gag halfway in that upstages everything else in the film. His stark shift between “comic Justin” and “straight man Justin” tends to be a bit jarring, but he otherwise does fine.
D’Arcy already has immense skill and talent, but I cannot for the life of me explain his casting here. He uses an American accent next to his Russian lackeys, which distracts from the start. And his borderline insane character has little dimension and subsequently becomes more of a plot device than an individual.
The same goes for the prolific Andy Garcia as a higher-up in the mob, who disappears into the comedic background here. Keegan-Michael Key, however, makes a tour de force cameo that, in case you decide to buy the ticket, I simply cannot spoil.
Was there a great movie in here?
I’m not so sure.
These mediocre antics seem more like a punch line than a plotline, and even with talent like that provided you cannot expect much else. If the film had stuck to its comedic base with a minor touch of gravity, maybe the outcome would have been different. But it seems the filmmakers just needed to overhaul the entire premise for the sake of plot.
Mark McCarver was born and raised in Houston, Texas and has been involved in theater and film since he was a kid. He spent the past few years acting and directing across Texas before moving to Washington, DC in the fall of 2012 to get a taste of the East Coast’s entertainment industry. Mark holds a BA in Drama from Trinity University and trained at the Syracuse University – London Drama Program and Shakespeare’s Globe. He is a company member with Half Mad Theatre in Washington.