Wednesday, 27 August 2014
Boys in blue: "Let's Be Cops"
When the definitive history of film is written, Let's Be Cops won't go down as much, save perhaps an example of the importance of timing in comedy. Upon its US release a fortnight ago, Luke Greenfield's film was hammered down by critics keeping a concerned eye on events unfolding on the streets of St. Louis. For these commentators, it was an at best unfortunate, at worst heinous moment for Fox to be promoting a goofy knockabout in which the police are presented as lovable underdogs. In fairness to them, I should say that even if the officers of Ferguson had spent the past month passing out doughnuts and kissing newborn babies, there would be no pressing reason to race to the multiplex: this is one of those amiably duff ventures that was never developed after the initial pitch meeting, out of a conviction everyone involved needed simply to show up on set for it to swiftly film itself.
Plainly, it didn't, but even so, I think my American colleagues were harder on the film than it really deserves: its essentially juvenile delinquency doesn't merit a stern sentence and locking away so much as sporadic kicks up the bottom and clips round the ear. What it proves, beyond any doubt, is that the average standard of material now being offered to performers in TV is vastly superior to that being offered to the same performers heading onto the big screen. (Compare also: Jon Hamm in this week's Million Dollar Arm versus the Jon Hamm of Mad Men.) This is, among other things, a pretty shoddy vehicle for the freewheeling New Girl partnership of Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr., here cast as thirtysomething L.A. losers who've long seen their dream careers disappear over the Hollywood Hills.
Justin (Wayans) is a flunky at a videogame company seeing his best ideas snapped up by fairer-skinned colleagues, Ryan (Johnson) an erstwhile college football star whose most prominent public appearance in recent years has been in a TV health spot on the topic of genital herpes. The two get a whiff of power one Halloween night upon donning LAPD uniforms to a costume party, and - after some prevarication - decide to keep them on for the foreseeable, teaching themselves Policing 101 thanks to those ever-handy YouTube videos. (Nothing about the movie is hard work.) At no point is there any suggestion this might be a powertrip: unlike the protagonist of 1993's Canadian curio I Love a Man in Uniform, a TV actor who owned his prop stripes the Bad Lieutenant way, Justin and Ryan are only ever big kids playing dress-up, impotent enough for their shows of force to be formative rather than threatening.
The uniform gives them identity, visibility, the respect of women who wouldn't otherwise approach them, some semblance of self-esteem; when the time comes, it also affords them the opportunity to take down the Eastern European gangsters who previously humiliated the pair outside a swanky nightclub - and it's a sign of the production's overall half-assery that it should have been considered sufficient to stick our own James d'Arcy, with a spider neck tattoo and Slavic accent, in the kingpin role. The film is no less sketchy about getting us from A to B, and there is a strong sense viewers could pop out for a pee during the boys' misadventures at hen party and sorority house and not miss anything unduly significant; these scenarios also underline the general feeling Let's Be Cops adheres to the standard bromance template that regards women as creatures from another planet. (Justin's reaction to seeing Nina Dobrev topless is to run in the exact opposite direction.)
From the early shot of the heroes' patrol car filling up with bong smoke, Greenfield's film seems poised on the brink of becoming a down-and-dirty skitfest suitable only for stoners, but evidently the Fox higher-ups, sensing a possible summer hit, intervened at a critical juncture: despite the nymphomaniac sitting in on the pair's stakeout, despite the scene in which Ryan ends up with a fat man's scrotum on his face, the finished product - if that's the right phrase - is too good-natured to go entirely in that direction. That's in part down to the leads, operating at maybe 40-50% of their small-screen rhythms: it's possible to enjoy their company without finding the film hilarious, although I'll confess I let slip a chuckle at their choice of suspect-board names ("Diabetes", "Rogaine", "King Dickhead") and the pair's attempt to intimidate one arrestee using an empty takeaway bag. Once the initial glee inherent in the pitch and the title wears off, the scenarios get far less promising, but the sustained brutality that's been ascribed to it simply isn't in the film's lazy, shambling make-up: the worst I could charge it with, witnessing its sloppy spitballing, its erratic grabs for punchlines, shape, emotion, would be a mild case of harassment.
Let's Be Cops opens in cinemas nationwide today.