In the very first scene in Cop Out long-term loose-cannon police partners Jimmy Monroe (Bruce Willis) and Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan) discuss the nature of famous cop film homages. The conversation introduces an element of self-awareness, which is very quickly capitalised on with a throwaway reference to Die Hard, and alerts the viewer that Cop Out wants to be regarded as a homage to 1980s cop buddy films such as Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hrs and Lethal Weapon. The combination of overacting, cheesy electronic music, stereotypical Mexican drug lord villains and weak plot about recovering a baseball card certainly all suggest that Cop Out could work as a post-modern pastiche. However, there are far too many instances when director Kevin Smith actually appears to believe that the mediocre script is funny in its own right. Unfortunately, it’s mostly not.
This is the first time that Smith has directed somebody else’s script and it’s an odd thing for Smith to do considering that directing is not his forte and his strength has always been in his writing. His directorial presence in Cop Out can be felt and many of the gags do feel like the sort of thing he would write himself but too much of the film falls flat. Sometimes Cop Out feels like a clever student film (what Smith does best) and sometimes it just feels like a badly directed B-movie.
Bruce Willis spends most of his time looking bemused by it all while Smith unwisely gives Tracy Morgan free-reign and the results are a lot of frequently annoying shouted tirades. There are some moments of genuine hilarity, courtesy of an 11-year-old car thief and Seann William Scott once again doing his trademark lovable smartass routine as a thief. But mostly your laughs will be more nervous giggles from hoping that the clunky dialogue and lame gags are intentionally inane.
A good homage, or even a good affectionate parody, is a combination of genuine love and respect from the filmmaker for the films being referenced with a heightened awareness of the conventions of the genre and an ability to do something new and fresh. Scream and Shaun of the Dead are examples of when this worked for the horror genre. Smith obviously loves the 1980s cop films that he is referencing but with Cop Out he’s done nothing innovative or particularly entertaining with his expression of that love. Cop Out could have been an American equivalent of Hot Fuzz but it instead feels like an anachronistic forgotten film that you once owned on VHS.