Bruce Willis as Detective James "Jimmy" Monroe
Tracy Morgan as Detective Paul Hodges
Kevin Pollak as Hunsaker
Seann William Scott as Dave
Jason Lee as Roy
Rashida Jones as Debbie Hodges
Adam Brody as Barry Mangold
Guillermo Diaz as Poh Boy
Cory Fernandez as Juan Diaz
Jimmy and Paul are a carefully mismatched pair of New York City detectives who have endured nine years of partnership, which should put the ordeal of anyone who buys a ticket to “Cop Out” in some perspective. You will spend less than two hours in their wisecracking, undisciplined company, and that should be more than enough.
An early scene sets the tone for what will follow, even as it raises expectations just a bit. Paul (that’s the jumpy, fast-talking African-American partner, played by Tracy Morgan) persuades Jimmy (the grouchy white guy played by Bruce Willis) to let him be the one to question a suspect. The name Paul gives the technique he will use is “homage.” He says “HOMM-idge,” Jimmy says “oh-MAHZH,” and instead of calling the whole thing off, Paul storms into the interrogation room and reels off famous moments from as many other movies as he can think of, including “Die Hard.” “Not familiar with that one,” says Jimmy.
Which is pretty funny, even if it betrays the inferiority complex that cripples this hectic, desperately ingratiating buddy-cop action-comedy. Mr. Morgan, basically doing what he does on “30 Rock,” but with guns and profanity, is an amusing foil for the dependable Mr. Willis, whose jaw and scalp muscles appear to be in excellent condition for exasperated clenching. But the nonsensical title of this movie (which was originally supposed to be something smuttier) pretty much says it all. It’s a phoned-in, gutless piece of hack work that reminds you of other, better films in the same vein.
From time to time, “Cop Out” offers glimpses of the giddy, goofy delight it might have been. Those moments arise when the busy, pointlessly bloody machinery of the plot slows down enough to give someone a chance to act silly. Often enough it is Mr. Morgan, but he gallantly allows himself to be upstaged from time to time by Seann William Scott, playing a jabbering narrative contrivance who steals a valuable baseball card from Jimmy.
The recovery of that card — which Jimmy needs to sell so he can pay for the wedding of his beloved daughter, Ava (Michelle Trachtenberg) — is one wheel of a wobbly go-cart of a story put together by Robb and Mark Cullen, who wrote the screenplay, and Kevin Smith, who directed. Mr. Smith, who is best known (and best suited) for the scatological, free-form philosophy of “Clerks,” “Dogma” and “Clerks II,” has acknowledged that “Cop Out” represented an opportunity to cash a studio paycheck and try his hand at a popular genre.
As an action-comedy director, he shows himself to be not altogether incompetent, but admirers of his other movies (myself at least partially included) will search in vain for signs of his signature blend of bad-boy provocation and regular-guy sincerity. (Of course we can find plenty of that on Twitter, where Mr. Smith tweets as prolifically as a planeload of parakeets and has a following most religious leaders would envy.) Traces of his style are discernible in the loose, shaggy rhythm he sometimes allows to take over a scene, but most of “Cop Out” consists of clumsy swerves from dumb humor to grim brutality, as Jimmy and Paul’s personal issues entwine with their pursuit of a sadistic Mexican drug dealer (Guillermo Diaz).
In the film’s favor, it should be noted that this chase winds through some actual Brooklyn locations, including a sylvan corner of Prospect Park and —twice! — the L&B Spumoni Gardens, a venerable and beloved al fresco pizzeria in Bensonhurst that serves some of the best Sicilian pie in the borough. But local color and playful good humor will only take you so far, and “Cop Out” does not amount to much more than a blooper reel in search of a movie.