Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: Let's Be Cops (2014)

Let's Be Cops (2014)

Rated R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity, violence and drug use

Let's Be Cops is a mildly amusing late summer diversion, nothing more, nothing less. The comedy in the beginning and the action towards the end both work reasonably well (even if both have been done better by other films), and leads Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. have good bro-mantic chemistry, but as a whole, it frequently feels like a series of comedy sketches stapled together and stretched out to 104 minutes. Furthermore, the plot is weak, and many of the situations that the main characters found themselves in broke my suspension of disbelief that anybody could accept the two of them as real police officers, given their hare-brained antics and disregard for the safety of those around them.

The film follows Ryan O'Malley (Johnson) and Justin Miller (Wayans), a pair of guys who moved to LA to "make it", and are now pushing 30 with little to show for their efforts (Justin is a low-level video game designer, Ryan is unable to hold down a steady job). When they go to what they think is a costume party (actually a fancy masquerade ball) dressed as cops, complete with authentic-looking police uniforms, they soon find themselves enjoying the power and respect that comes with being, or at least posing as, members of law enforcement. Soon, however, they get in trouble with a group of Russian gangsters that they decided to get revenge on for damaging Ryan's car, while also having to worry about the real LAPD and what might happen if the cops found out that they weren't the real deal.

The way the plot plays out leaves a mountain of gaping holes and unanswered questions. Actually, really just one, but it's a big one, which is: why aren't the protagonists in federal prison for impersonating police officers? This isn't just a nitpick, but a major story point that drives much of the later part of the film -- when Justin realizes that what he and Ryan are doing is incredibly illegal and could get them several years of hard time, he pushes for the two of them to stop, opening a rift between them. However, at the end we're led to believe that they got off simply because they helped bring down a crime boss and saved an actual cop's life, and that he put in a good word for them, with Ryan even becoming a real police officer at the end. Between the fact that they committed a flagrant felony offense and their frankly dangerous behavior over the course of the movie, I almost hoped that they would've had to face some consequences for their actions, but they get off scot-free, shown at the end to have become better people as a result of the experience. At times, I wasn't laughing so much as I was afraid for the safety of the people around these two nutballs. I haven't even mentioned the subplot involving Josie (Nina Dobrev), a waitress who likes "a man in uniform" and starts dating Justin in the mistaken belief that he's a cop, and I probably shouldn't because she plays barely any role in this film outside of her workplace being a MacGuffin. Hell, she doesn't even get kidnapped by the bad guys, and she gets back together with Justin even after finding out he was lying about being a cop. Dobrev is alright in the role, but her character is just there, serving virtually no purpose except to put some eye-candy in the film.

The reason why I can't write this film off entirely is because of Johnson and Wayans as the fake cops. They're not Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, but they're both capable comic actors who ably sell their friendship and the film's humor. Even when the jokes started to dry up in the second half, you could tell that the two of them were having a good time. It was odd seeing a Wayans brother play the "straight man" in a comedy given the sort of humor those guys had built their careers on, but he pulls it off just as well as the more low-brow stuff. And the jokes did work to get me laughing, even if I found that they were much too front-loaded for my liking. It's not that the humor was falling flat in the second half of the film, so much as that it disappeared almost entirely, the film mostly turning into a straight, if still somewhat light-hearted, police drama. While the action was passable and the few comedic bits still funny, it was a noticeable step down from the first half. It felt almost like an entirely different movie, and not a very good one.

Score: 2 out of 5

You can do worse, but this is recommended only for fans of the people involved. Otherwise, just watch Bad Boys II or 21 Jump Street again.

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