It feels 48 hours long. Kevin Smith’s film, the first he’s directed from other writers’ script, seems put together in a phantom zone, somewhere in the vague space between a bad Saturday Night Live skit and halfway decent boilerplate Hollywood buddy film. A story about a coupla quippin’ cops who break all the rules to retrieve a stolen baseball card and get back their self-respect isn’t really weird enough to vie with the stuff in most Bruce Willis movies (jumping on Harrier jets, blowing up comets), so we never feel like Cop Out is a broad send-up. And except for the parts when Tracy Morgan starts riffing about poops, the film’s not sustainably hilarious, either. In fact, besides a little kid car thief and Seann William Scott as a druggie cat burglar, nobody is what we critics might term “funny.”
Smith has never been what you might call “cinematic.” His askew universe films like Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy work because they visually illustrate torrents of stand-up-worthy dialogues, which was once groundbreaking cult moviemaking. But Judd Apatow and Quentin Tarantino milk much more pathos out of malingering pop culture arguments. In this film, Smith actually shoots a shoot-out and tracks a decent car chase. Maybe he should’ve approached this film seriously; he’s got the right stuff for an action hack, apparently.
Then there’s always the nagging fear that he’s peaked. I was stunned by Zack and Miri Shoot a Porno, because in it Smith mixed taboo topics into a genre film—romance with explicit sex. For whatever reason, he chose this next; a film originally entitled A Couple of Dicks. I thought it was studio censoriousness that made them change the title to the more boring Cop Out. Now that we’ve seen Smith think in clichés for a paycheck, the studio’s retitling seems perfect.