Originality is not exactly the order of the day in the new cop comedy called Let’s Be Cops. First off we have a pair of ostensibly amusing pals (Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr.) who evidently struck a firm chemistry on a recent sitcom and then turned that success into a feature-length film. Adding to the sitcom vibe of the film is its almost slavish devotion to predictable plot points, empty digressions, and formulaic presentation. This is a sloppy, overlong, and thoroughly generic piece of comedy filmmaking.
Oh, except those two leads (Johnson and Wayans) actually do have a pretty solid chemistry together, which allows the consistently conventional Let’s Be Cops to break through the more tedious material and actually deliver a decent amount of random chuckles here and there. And it’s a good thing we’re dealing with two funny guys, because this screenplay (by director Luke Greenfield and co-writer Nicholas Thomas) aims to be little more than a compendium of 1980s-style cop movie clichés. Not tweaks or jabs – just a “greatest hits” collection of plot points you’ve seen 155 times this decade alone. (The plot itself seems more than partially “borrowed” by the deservedly obscure 1986 Judge Reinhold “fake cop” comedy Off Beat.)
Whereas most “cop farces” realize you have to be subversive (like The Other Guys) or satirical (like 22 Jump Street) in such a well-traveled sub-genre, Greenfield (director of the highly underrated The Girl Next Door) seems to set his sights firmly on…sketch comedy. Let’s Be Cops is at its best early on, when its two leads are hatching a (very stupid) plan to pose as cops to feel cool and powerful, but the longer the movie progresses, the less it feels like a comedy and more like a truly redundant Fox TV pilot that probably won’t make it to week four.
The film also runs way too long for this sort of breezy-yet-profane sort of buddy comedy, and it’s partially because large chunks of Let’s Be Cops’ second half is littered with plot machinations, divergences, and characters that should have ended up on the cutting room floor.
For example, Justin (Wayans) has a subplot in which he woos a lovely young woman who (by the way) is a super-talented make-up artist, so when the film pulls to a dead stop in Act II so we can be subjected to an egregiously unfunny sequence in which Keegan-Michael Key plays an indecipherable thug, we know the “make-up expert” line will finally come into play. Worst of all: the big payoff for all this shoe leather is a pin-drop unfunny sequence in which Wayans half-assedly infiltrates a villain’s lair.
Also, very little of this nonsense has any real bearing on the plot, which becomes so outrageously pedestrian and conventional, it makes one wonder if the screenplay was ever a legitimate priority. By the time James d’Arcy and Andy Garcia show up as the villains, one starts to realize that nobody aside from the leads seems to realize they’re in a comedy.
Fans of Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. may wring a few additional chuckles out of this oddly and almost proudly unoriginal film — and the always amusing Rob Riggle does help a little — but it’s hard to see Let’s Be Cops as little more than the “comedian vehicle template” it works so hard to become. If you cut this thing down to its barest essence of legitimate comedy, it’d probably run about 30 minutes, with commercials.
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