Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Let's Be Cops
Let's Be Cops
Dir. Luke Greenfield
2 out of 5
Most kids want to be something when they grow up. Some of them never stop believing in these dreams. And still others never stop behaving like children. In Let's Be Cops, sweet and straight-laced Justin Miller (Damon Wayans Jr.) toils as an assistant at a video game company whose decision-makers rudely dismiss his pet project, a realistic law enforcement simulator. His best friend and roommate Ryan O'Malley (Jake Johnson), a former college jock and current party animal, wants to...well, it isn't exactly clear. But Ryan's purpose snaps into focus the night that the two buddies slip into cop costumes (for reasons far too silly to explain) and realize that they are able to fool the public into thinking that they are the true-blue arm of the law. They're buffoons, of course, overmatched and acting well beyond their individual intellectual and moral capacities. But Let's Be Cops goes to great lengths to convince us they are awesome buffoons deserving of our sympathy - a dubious goal that ultimately makes the film just as deluded as its protagonists.
I will admit that after a surprisingly dour prologue, it's actually kind of fun to watch these guys get their sophomoric kicks when first donning the blues. It's only when Let's Be Cops tries to embrace the pretext of an actual cop movie - without really acknowledging its own cinematic vigilantism - that it begins to falter. After messing with the goons who have come to collect protection money on their favorite diner, Justin and Ryan invoke the wrath of a vicious mobster (James D'Arcy) operating the world's most obvious criminal syndicate in downtown Los Angeles. They begin a rogue investigation of the kingpin (Ryan is the far more enthusiastic participant, gleefully embracing his inner Serpico) but the film mistakes foolishness and ignorance for gumption and wit. Let's Be Cops inverts a perfectly fine fish-out-of-water concept into a troubling affirmation of indulgence.
There's a funny movie to be made about the impotent rage and frustration of people who stall on the career ladder, only to be arbitrarily validated by their decision to affect an over-the-top attitude. (I believe it was called The Other Guys.) Yet director Luke Greenfield and his co-writer Nicholas Thomas fail to establish any appealing thematic through-line, other than affirming that power and authority easily turns human beings into bullies and exploiters. This, in fact, is what the movie celebrates, judging by which of its two protagonists it deems in need of a personality overhaul. Let's Be Cops also does not make its female characters look particularly smart. Justin's love interest, waitress/aspiring makeup artist Josie (Nina Dobrev), consistently fails to see these jokers for who they are, and the only other important female character happens to be a horny, drug-addled weirdo (Natasha Leggero) who's simultaneously an object of disgust and a sexual trophy. These actors deserve better - particularly Wayans Jr. and Johnson, who do their best to salvage characters that would otherwise come across as very, very sad. Still, the fleeting delights of Wayans' fussiness and Johnson's cockiness also affirms how pure charisma can make problematic characters seem likable or interesting. It's not their fault though. They're just doing the job. It's the system around them that's rotten at its core.
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