By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
I've always stuck up for Kevin Smith, whether he's accused of hackneyed or blasphemous filmmaking, or that he's too fat to fly coach.
I have enjoyed hours of Smith's raunchy, marathon lectures that put his screen smut to shame.
I even liked Jersey Girl, for cryin' out loud.
Yet there's no way I can defend what Smith perpetrated with Cop Out, a movie living down to its title. Cop Out is the first movie Smith directed that he didn't write, and that's a crime against creativity.
Nobody in his right mind hires Smith to direct a movie unless it's his script, packed with dirty jokes and unsavory sweetness, making tolerable the imagination deficit behind the camera. You certainly don't hire a director with such static vision to create an action flick, which Cop Out tries to be.
Or maybe this is supposed to spoof the racially mixed buddy-cop genre spawned nearly 30 years ago by 48 Hrs. and repeated ad nauseam since. Cop Out seems cast for it, with Bruce Willis as the grizzled detective with family issues, and Tracy Morgan as his motor-mouthed, loose-cannon partner whose crazy ways usually work. A severe shortage of jokes in Robb and Mark Cullen's screenplay makes Smith's intent hard to figure.
Jimmy Monroe (Willis) and Paul Hodges (Morgan) are NYPD partners trailing a drug cartel led by Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz). They'll eventually get around to Poh Boy, after a series of episodes, mostly with next to nothing to do with the case.
Jimmy is the gruff cop making cobra eyes at everyone, including his ex-wife's husband (Jason Lee) who's usurping the father's role by offering to pay for his daughter's wedding. Jimmy won't allow it, and plans to sell a rare baseball card to pay for the ceremony.
Paul supports his partner while worrying that his wife (Rashida Jones) is having an affair, planting a videocamera in a teddy bear for bedroom surveillance.
The plot curdles when the baseball card is stolen by a burglar (Seann William Scott) who happens to be connected to Poh Boy, who happens to be a memorabilia collector. Poh Boy will return the card if Jimmy and Paul recover his missing car, with a valuable piece of story confusion in the trunk.
I'm guessing that Smith thought the script — previously intended for James Gandolfini and Robin Williams — could be tarted up on the set with improvisation. Morgan strains mightily in that regard, peppering suspects with nonsense movie lines and talking so aggressively that Chris Tucker (Rush Hour) would suggest toning it down. Morgan is no Eddie Murphy, although Willis does a passable Nick Nolte impression.
Cop Out can cause Smith's fans — and I'm one — to feel betrayed. He's making exactly the kind of movie that his creations Jay and Silent Bob would rip apart with gloriously profane riffs, movies that Dogma, Chasing Amy and the Clerks flicks are so unlike. Smith phoned this one in. And I'd enjoy being crammed next to him in an airline seat to gripe about it.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs. tampabay.com/movies.