March 5, 2010

Tracy Morgan Does Something Without Tina Fey

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Some movies are meant for the masses, others appeal to a certain niche. Director Kevin Smith has spent the better part of his career making films that fall into the latter category, with many of his films set in the same universe and featuring recurring characters, like Jay and Silent Bob. In that respect, Cop Out is a departure for Smith: It’s a film that was commissioned by Warner Brothers as a winter tent piece and stars several big name actors. Moreover, it falls squarely into the action comedy genre, which generally elicits mass appeal.

Despite all of this, the film is still very narrow-minded in its appeal. If you don’t like Tracy Morgan, you have no business seeing this film. And, based on the discussions I’ve had with my fellow students, there are more than a few people who don’t like Tracy Morgan.

In the film, Morgan plays a cop named Paul Hodges, but really he’s just acting out a thought experiment: What if Tracy Morgan was a police officer? The thing about Morgan is that he never really seems like he’s acting — not because his performances are effortless as much as there are non-existent. So, while I do like Morgan, even I started to sour on his role in this movie. The idea of Tracy as a cop is funny at first, but at a certain point you begin to question how he possibly passed the exam.

Starring opposite Morgan is Bruce Willis as Jimmy Monroe. The grizzled cop role is one that Willis has become familiar with over the years, so he is more than capable of carrying his weight here. Plus, Willis can be genuinely funny, which certainly helps given that this is supposed to be a comedy. And Smith filled the rest of the cast with a number of recognizable faces, among them Seann William Scott, Kevin Pollak, Rashida Jones, Adam Brody, Jason Lee and Michelle Trachtenberg. Brody, who most people will remember as The OC’s Seth, is a personal favorite of mine. Here he plays the new guy on the force and inserts an otherwise bland role with ample amounts of charm.

But the cast’s standout performance comes courtesy of Scott, who is absolutely hilarious as Dave the burglar. On paper the role probably seems rather superfluous, but Scott elevates the material tremendously. Smith seems to understand what made Scott a star way back in 1999’s American Pie. In fact, he just recently announced that Smith will be the star of his next film, Hit Somebody.

Smith is an actor’s director, encouraging his cast to go for broke. Unfortunately, the script simply isn’t strong enough for this type of exuberance. Unlike all of his previous films, Smith can’t shoulder the blame for that this time around. Cop Out is the first feature film that Smith’s directed which he didn’t write himself, and perhaps that’s the film’s ultimate problem. Written by brothers Mark and Rob Cullen, Cop Out is unevenly paced and entirely cliché. I’ve read a number of reviews that blame Smith for these problems, claiming that the issue of pacing falls on the director, but I don’t think that’s necessarily fair. Smith has stated multiple times how insecure he is about directing, but the film looks rather nice aesthetically. And give him credit for directing an action flick for fewer than 40 million dollars, a feat that is relatively unheard of today.

In many ways, the decision about whether or not you should go see Cop Out can be boiled down to one question: Did you think the trailer looked funny? If the answer is yes, then chances are you like Morgan enough to like the film and all of its silliness. If the answer is no, then avoid Cop Out at all costs, because the 110 minute films plays like an elongated version of the two minute tease.

Original Author: Wesley Ambrecht