ADVANCE MOVIE REVIEW: Let's Be Cops

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"LET'S BE COPS"-- 2 STARS

Blame the excessive 1980's, where the genre was beaten to death at the same time it was filled with unmatched classics, but I think it's about high time we finally retire the "buddy cop" movie.  They are overdone and, in my eyes, the failures outnumber the successes.  Hollywood, thankfully, doesn't kick out as many as it used to, but I know the unoriginal writers out there starving for paychecks are going to keep going to the well on this and cook up rehashed ideas.  Leave the genre to television where they have time and space to make a great buddy cop relationship grow and breathe.

The comedic greats like the "Lethal Weapon" and "Beverly Hills Cop" series and the dramatic heft of "In the Heat of the Night" and "Se7en" just don't happen anymore.  The best we can hang our hats on lately have been 2010's "The Other Guys" with Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell and the dynamic duo of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in 2012's "21 Jump Street" and its big upcoming sequel.  After that, it's a long way down in quality and entertainment to where "The Heat" sadly resides with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy from last year.

As I wrote in my reviews of "The Other Guys" and "The Heat," the key to a good buddy cop movie, comedy or drama, is the pairing.  You can't just throw two performers together and hope for the best.  The two you put together have to have chemistry.  Get that right and you've got a movie.  Force it and you've got a trainwreck like "The Lone Ranger" or other bombs.  

The "case" and the villain are completely secondary after that.  If those pieces work out too, that's gravy to the team that really entertains.  At the same time, a fun pairing can be brought down by a dumb case, so the problem cuts both ways.  For example, I've long told fans of "The Other Guys" that I would rather watch Mark and Will bust each others balls at their desks for two hours than see them go crack a case or get their hands dirty.  Their chemistry is gold and the rest is secondary.

All these buddy cop measurements and prerequisites are plugged into the new film "Let's Be Cops," which opens this coming August.  I was lucky enough to catch a very advance screening of the film.  The writers here, led by director Luke Greenfield of the forgettable "Something Borrowed," have the potential of a unique idea and a decent pair of leads to work with, but it's the real cop stuff that bogs the film down.

TV stars Damon Wayans, Jr. ("Happy Endings") and Jake Johnson ("The New Girl") play a pair of Purdue University college roommates who are now over 30 after moving out to L.A. to pursue their career dreams.  Wayans is Justin, a meek middle-level software designer at a video game company with a prick of a boss (Jon Lajoie of "The League").  At least he has a steady job.  Johnson is Ryan, a former college football quarterback star who blew his knee and his chance at the pros.  He spends his days getting high, leaching off Justin, and moving through dead-end jobs.  Both are, of course, complete losers in the dating department

Justin strikes out on an elaborate video game idea surrounding the day-in/day-out grind of being a L.A. cop.  Lying about failing, Justin comes home with box of official police uniforms and props. That's where Ryan gets the bright idea for them to wear the gear to a Purdue alumni costume party.  Dressed as cops, the two begin to notice the lovely attention they get from the ladies and the fake authority they can wield to strangers who don't know they are fakes.

Soon enough, thanks to YouTube and eBay, Ryan dives right into the idea of pretending to be a cop and talks the hesitant Justin into playing along for a while.  The two learn the lingo and even get a retired, yet functional cop car to add to the ensemble.  Ryan and Justin have a blast, but, naturally, it goes too far and they get in too deep.  In getting chummy with an actual cop on the beat (Rob Riggle), the two fakers get caught up in the web of a Russian mobster (an unrecognizable James D'Arcy from "Cloud Atlas" and "Hitchcock") and a crooked detective (the sneering Andy Garcia) oppressing local business owners and conducting underground weapons trades.

That's where "Let's Be Cops" drops the ball.  This is a fun premise of two clowns impersonating officers where we are in on the joke.  Between screwing up cop movie cliches on purpose, enjoying the perks of a being a man in uniform, and even getting mistaken as strippers, the joke possibilities are endless and the R-rating is earned quite nicely.  The fish-out-of-water stuff here is far better than "Ride Along" from earlier this year with Ice Cube and Kevin Hart.  

That entertaining setup is reinforced by the natural affability and comedic presences possessed by Wayans and Johnson.  Wayans may not be the chameleon his dad is, but little quirks here and there make him less square.  Johnson has always had the gift of gab and he's getting better when the right material uses his talents (see "Drinking Buddies" and "Safety Not Guaranteed").  They're not as good as Tatum and Hill, but they are untapped big screen talents and a good match, as audiences of "The New Girl" will tell you.  I supposed I am also obligated at this point to name drop Bulgarian hottie and "Vampire Diaries" star Nina Dobrev's eye candy presence, but it's not much outside of looks.

However, when "Let's Be Cops" shifts from being a cop comedy to actually trying to be a cop film with a case to crack and a pair of evil heavies, it makes the same mistake as "Ride Along."  It collapses and the fun quotient shrinks in a hurry.  The need for a case bogs down the humor.  It's a shame too, because it feels like only the surface is being scratched.  Sometimes, films like this are victims of having all of the funny parts ruined by the trailer with little more to offer.  Strangely, and in a befuddling way, the opposite is the case here.  Some of the more hilarious teases from its trailers aren't even in the film or some are saved for a deleted scene/blooper reel that runs through the credits.  Maybe I saw a really early cut and that will hopefully change between now and August.

Had "Let's Be Cops" loaded up more on those jokes that are winning over preview audiences and less on the bullets required for a predictable shootout or two, we might then have something worthy here to recommend.  Like preferring to watch Ferrell and Wahlberg in the office instead of the field, this film could have stuck with the impersonation pranks and filled its running time just fine.  Down the road, "Let's Be Cops," with a boost, could be one of those movies where an extended and unrated version on DVD/Blu-ray might have the potential to be a cult classic, but it's going to be an uphill battle, especially when this film has to follow "22 Jump Street" at the box office to get compared to and crushed against.  

LESSON #1: IMPERSONATING AN OFFICER IS AN ILLEGAL ACT PUNISHABLE BY LAW-- OK, let's be real about "Let's Be Cops."  This is going to feel like the disclaimer at the end of the "Fast and Furious" movies, but it's true.  Don't try this pretend idea at home.  You'll get caught and thrown in jail for impersonating a police officer.  

LESSON #2: FEELING LIKE A FAILURE AT AGE 30-- This lesson is too easy and often-repeated across movie genres, but "Let's Be Cops" gives it a try.  30 seems to be that age where you are supposed to be a success at something.  You've had almost ten years to put a career together or start a family.  The societal pressure is real at that age and it gets worse after 30.

LESSON #3: EVERYBODY LOVES A MAN IN UNIFORM-- Ladies, you can chime in and speak to this being true.  Us guys know.  Why do yo think so many of us boys want to grow up and be police officers or firemen?  Take a good-looking man and put a uniform on him and the attraction only grows.  It works every time.

LESSON #4: BEING IN THE S--T ISN'T THE S--T-- It's going to sound corny on the surface, especially when funnyman (and former Marine Corps Reserve officer) Rob Riggle emerges in this film as the pillar of law enforcement heroism, but being in the firefight as a police officer is not all it's cracked up to be.  Against the butt of every joke and contrary to the plentiful amount of bad examples, being a cop is a real job done by trained professionals with a passion to protect, serve, and uphold the law.  It's not as easy at it looks on TV or in the movies.  "Let's Be Cops" does come clean about correcting that message.

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