By Jake Coyle/AP Entertainment Writer
“Cop Out’’ is a clumsy postmodern buddy cop flick that stuffs as many genre references as it can into the ceaseless patter between Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis.
They play our paired police – detectives Paul Hodges and Jimmy Monroe, respectively – and they might as well be in different movies. Willis, a veteran of cop films like the “Die Hard’’ films and most recently “Surrogates,’’ is our unmistakable straight man. Almost charmingly, he’s actually trying to solve crimes.
Hodges, however, is a parody. Realism is far in the rearview whenever Morgan is on screen and one can’t help wondering how his partner – let alone his wife (Rashida Jones) – can treat a cartoon so much like a human.
Director Kevin Smith gives Morgan, the former “Saturday Night Live’’ cast member and current “30 Rock’’ co-star, copious room to let loose. He’s the kind of comedian who’s naturally funny; bottling him would be foolish.
For better and worse, “Cop Out’’ is his film. Morgan rattles off movie quotes (everything from “Training Day’’ to “The Color Purple’’), disguises himself in a cell phone costume, wildly vacillates emotionally, uses cute words like “nincompoop’’ and occasionally spouts comically lucid definitions like a human Wikipedia.
Though handled awkwardly, the plot is simple. Hodges and Monroe, partners for nine years, are Brooklyn detectives who encounter a Mexican drug gang. Following an incident, their badges are revoked for a month by their captain (the good, sometimes typecast Sean Cullen). A valuable baseball card of Monroe’s is stolen and traced back to the gang.
This plot line unbelievably mixes with one involving Monroe’s daughter’s impending wedding. Divorced, his ex-wife (Francine Swift) has found a wealthy, arrogant second husband (Jason Lee) who is offering to pay for the daughter’s wedding. Played by Michelle Trachtenberg, the daughter is asking Monroe for a $48,000 wedding – making her more a villain than the lethal drug gang.
The detectives’ pursuit ropes in an amateurish burglar (Seann William Scott), who proves a surprisingly good fit with Morgan’s madcap energy. His schtick here is a mimicking game that, with Morgan, turns into a Bugs Bunny routine _ the movie’s best laugh.
Others make brief appearances: Adam Brody and Kevin Pollack as unnecessary rival police; Fred Armisen as a Russian lawyer; Susie Essman as a gun-totting suburban mother whose five minutes cackle brilliantly with foul language. The violent gang leader Poh Boy is played by Guillermo Diaz in a part that might have been better comedic rather than menacing.
A question of action-to-comedy balance hovers over “Cop Out.’’ Written by Robb and Mark Cullen, it originally had Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg attached. They’ll instead release in August their buddy cop film “The Other Guys’’ _ likely more of a full-blown comedy.
Interracial cop films, from “48 Hours’’ to “Lethal Weapon,’’ are a genre by themselves, but there’s virtually no racial material here, sapping it of friction.
Smith has made dialogue between two guys a staple since his indie breakthrough, “Clerks.’’ He’s since made some terrible films (“Dogma’’ taking the cake) and “Cop Out’’ finds him for the first time directing from a script not his own.
Like Hodges exclaims during a blitz of movie impressions, “Cop Out’’ is an homage. Harold Faltermeyer’s synthesizer-heavy score recalls his soundtrack from “Beverly Hills Cop,’’ the buddy cop classic that “Cop Out’’ falls well short of.
“Cop Out,’’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated R for pervasive language including sexual references, violence and brief sexuality.