Fish out of water stories go back for centuries, continuously putting characters in situations that they are unfamiliar — and in most cases, uncomfortable — with. They have an inherent capacity for both comedic gold and dramatic tension by opening a character’s eyes to who they really are deep down and giving them a chance to stop hiding from themselves. Often times they are meant as allegories for a much deeper meaning, while other times, they are simply a way to escape and laugh at the humor and the turmoil that the characters find themselves in. The new “buddy cop” comedy, Let’s Be Cops, wants to be more than just the latter, but in so doing, stumbles under the weight of a massive naked perp.
Jake Johnson joins his New Girl co-star, Damon Wayans Jr., as best friends and roommates, Ryan and Justin, respectively. Ryan is an ex-college football star with no future to speak of except living off of that fame (as well as once having been featured in a herpes commercial) and hanging out with a group of kids at the park every day — a subplot that doesn’t just come off a little bit creepy, but doesn’t really go anywhere either. Johnson does a good job balancing his manic, over-the-top persona with a more subtle dramatic turmoil that embeds all of his choices with a genuine need to mask his misery — causing him to be a bit of an insensitive jerk.
Justin is an extremely passive video game designer whose boss and co-workers walk all over. Unwilling to continue to fight for his dreams, or Josie (Nina Dobrev, given hardly anything to do but act as the hapless victim of her own awful choices), the young waitress he has eyes for, Justin decides it’s time to move back to his mundane life in Ohio. Wayans uses this passivity to good use, constantly trying to be the voice of reason in the wake of Ryan’s choices, but at the same time, allowing himself to be talked into even the most unethical (not to mention illegal) circumstances. He just doesn’t want to let his best friend down; he’s loyal to a fault.
On paper, these characters work perfectly well together, however, the dynamic between Johnson and Wayans always seems a bit off. The reason for this seems to stem from Wayans’s fluctuating comedic timing. At times, Wayans hits all of the right notes with sincerity and aplomb. At others (and far too often), Wayans looks lost and seems to be trying too hard to nail the laughs, focusing more on outdoing Johnson’s sense of goofy flavor when he should have remained in a subtle level of sarcasm and reactionary comedy. He couldn’t allow Johnson to take center stage, and in so doing, becomes a detriment to the comedy of the situations the guys are faced with.
Because this film is a hyper-realistic film, it relies heavily on suspension of disbelief, which at times is tested almost beyond its limits. When Ryan and Justin confront a group of hard-nosed criminals (who they encountered at the beginning of the film when the group sideswiped Ryan’s car), the encounter is so cringe worthy, it’s almost impossible to believe that Ryan and Justin would be able to get away with it. This, along with the way they present themselves while in uniform (including smoking a joint, participating in illegal gambling, and just being buffoons when it comes to the law), takes away from the authenticity of the ridiculousness of the set-up.
After Ryan talks Justin into attending a masquerade ball (which Ryan calls a costume party, because, you know, they’re the same thing) as cops, they quickly discover that the public, including a slew of foxy ladies, actually believe they are the real boys in blue. It’s all fun and games in the beginning, but they quickly get caught in the middle of an actual case that may cost them their lives. It’s a fun premise, one I wish they had been brave enough to explore beyond the surface of the situation itself. When the film starts to reach deeper and get to the real core of the character’s dilemmas, we’re abruptly pulled out by some new plot development or scene. It’s as if director Luke Greenfield and co-writer Nicholas Thomas ant to see Ryan and Justin succeed Ryan, but not enough to allow them to show too much vulnerability.
Greenfield also spends a little too much time trying to shock the audience with grotesque and unusual characters and antics instead of allowing the overall concept to drive the film. When Ryan and Justin must find an apartment to use for a stakeout, the inhabitant of the one they choose is an overtly sexualized and doped-up young woman who spends all of her time trying to seduce Ryan. It’s not only unsettling, but it’s unnecessary, as the entire thing goes absolutely nowhere — except for one last quick chuckle at the end of the film.
The resolutions are also dealt with a little too cleanly. When Justin decides to finally “become a man” and stand up for himself and his ideas, the ensuing scene (cut along with a scene of Ryan running for his life) is a fantastic mix of intensity and courage, one that leads perfectly into the climax of the film. But at the same time, for the resolutions to work properly, the supporting cast must be forced into turn-on-a-dime changes that aren’t given enough reason to accept properly.
Don’t get me wrong. The overall execution of the film was fine, and there were some very good emotional scenes mixed in with the handful of big laughs. But because of some continuity issues (like when Ryan and Justin first go on their stakeout, Ryan has promoted himself to detective and is wearing a nice dress shirt and pants, but then, one scene later (presumably after only a few hours), Ryan is once again in his police uniform with nary an explanation for why) and some questionable editing choices, Let’s Be Cops feels more like an idea that had great potential to be something more than it actually ended up being.
My Grade: B+
Next week, new movies include Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, If I Stay and When the Game Stands Tall. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.