"It's not stealing," protests NYPD detective Paul Hodges as he readies for his "performance" interrogating a suspect. "It's called homage."
Because he's played by comic Tracy Morgan (TV's "30 Rock"), homage is mispronounced. Because the movie is "Cop Out," the "homage" is to '80s cop movies — a fond remembrance of those jokey, bloody "Beverly Hills Cop" / "Lethal Weapon" romps of Eddie and Mel.
And because the movie was directed (though not written) by fanboy Kevin Smith, Paul's "homage" rant to a suspect is snippets of movie dialogue — from "An Officer and a Gentleman" to "Die Hard," "In the Heat of the Night" to "Star Wars."
"These are not the droids you're looking for!"
"Cop Out" is a cop buddy picture that reminds us what awful eye-rollers those movies often were. It's got the generic "foreign" villains (Mexicans, this time), the chatterbox "perp" who is arrested and then comes along for the ride (Seann William Scott steals the movie in the Joe Pesci role). It's got '80s action icon Bruce Willis, as Detective Jimmy Monroe, playing straight-man to an always over-the-top Morgan.
"White lightning and BLACK thunder!"
But poor plotting, inept staging and slack pacing remind us that Smith ("Clerks") is better at riffs than at making functional, wholly realized films.
Willis and Morgan play semi-competent detectives who botch a stakeout, get an informant killed and become mixed up in a plot that involves a stolen Mercedes, a stolen baseball card and a baseball fanatic bad guy (Guillermo Diaz) they can never seem to get the drop on.
Scott is a parkour-practicing burglar who steals a rare card from Jimmy. The cop needs the cash from it so that he — and not the ex-wife's second husband (Smith film alumnus Jason Lee, dialing it down) — can pay for his daughter's wedding. So they chase the thief and shoot up the Mexican mob, even though they're both suspended.
Funny bits interrupt the dead stretches — a hysterical and heavily armed woman protecting her property while questioning the manhood of New York's finest, Scott playing the "stop repeating what I say" game and an 11-year-old car thief who curses a blue streak but fears his mama. As in the rest of the Smith canon, there's a juvenile fascination with sex — a monologue about monkey sexual practices, for instance.
But there's a dated and played feel to much of this, from the "Black Betty" to Beastie Boys soundtrack, the jokes that don't land, and situations and generic characters (Kevin Pollack plays a rival detective) that add nothing to the film.
If you've noticed Smith playing the weight card for victimhood in the media, the movie's fat jokes will make you grimace. And throw-away lines about YouTube and Wikipedia sound like '80s guys trying too hard to sound with it.
"Cop Out" is still funnier than the dreadful later Eddie Murphy cop pictures. But it feels like an homage to a period best forgotten, just a chance for all involved to sell out and cash in with a crude comedy that reminds us how bad these particular "good old days" were.
Rating: R for language, sexuality, violence. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. Theaters: Alamo Lake Creek, Alamo Village, Barton Creek, Cinemark Cedar Park, Cinemark Round Rock, Cinemark Southpark Meadows, Gateway, Highland, Lakeline, Metropolitan, Starplex, Tinseltown Pflugerville, Tinseltown South, Westgate.