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Crime and punishment 

Cop Out

Cop Out (R)

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown

Does anyone really want to see Tracy Morgan shooting at or seriously beating the hell out of someone? Can anyone believe Morgan as a veteran New York City policeman to begin with? Such casting would be a tough sell even with top-notch material, but it's excruciating in Cop Out, the first film helmed by Kevin Smith that he didn't write.

Apparently even the onetime Clerks wunderkind wants to distance himself from the dreck. Back in December, Smith tweeted that his upcoming release was "not MY movie; a movie I was hired to direct." The screenplay, which was on Hollywood's 2008 "Black List" of the best unproduced scripts, is the feature debut of brothers Robb and Mark Cullen.

Initially, it sounds Smith-like: In the opening scene, there are about a dozen film references as partners Paul (Morgan) and Jimmy (Bruce Willis) interrogate a suspect. But it quickly becomes apparent that the Cullens were opting for the cakewalk approach to filmmaking. Easiest way to write a script? Borrow classic dialogue from a slew of hit movies and use it for punchlines. See how funny it is when Paul plays "bad cop" for the first time and just strong-arms the perp with a gun and a loud series of well-known quotes? OK, maybe "We're gonna need a bigger boat" is amusing for its randomness. And likewise when Paul nicks Die Hard and Willis' character replies, "Never saw that movie."

That wink may be weak, but you'll appreciate its mild cleverness once the rest of the film goes south. Cop Out doesn't offer an ounce of imagination as a buddy-cop action-comedy hybrid. Guess what happens when Paul and Jimmy botch a case with their spastic zeal? They get a dressing-down from their boss, along with a suspension. Will they pursue the bad guys anyway? If you even consider a no, you've never seen a movie.

Of course, there are subplots complicating the film's central story about a Mexican drug cartel. Jimmy's suspension comes at a particularly bad time, because down payments are due on his daughter's big wedding and he doesn't want to be humiliated by letting his ex-wife's wealthy new squeeze (an almost unrecognizable cleaned-up Jason Lee) pay. Paul could care less about his forced vacation, because he's too preoccupied trying to catch his wife (Rashida Jones) cheating. Both find possible solutions in, respectively, a rare baseball card and a nanny-cam. Both do little but jumble the story in distracting and rarely entertaining ways.

Seann William Scott plays a small role as a childish thief, and the former Stifler injects a little life into his few scenes, getting more laughs than any of his co-stars during the rest of the movie. Willis phones it in; the best that can be said about his performance is that he looks a whole lot better with a clean-shaven head than with that awful piece he wore during Surrogates. And Morgan is completely wrong. The pouty, entitled, but usually misinformed schtick that he pulls off so well on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock fails to translate. Paul isn't quite a bumbling cop, but he's not a great one, either, which leaves him an undefined — and uninteresting — question mark.

Combine these character fails with a plot whose every turn can be spotted from miles away, and Smith has added to his résumé the action equivalent of Jersey Girl.

scene@csindy.com

Film Details

Cop Out
Rated R · 110 min. · 2010
Official Site: copoutmovie.warnerbros.com
Director: Kevin Smith
Writer: Robb Cullen and Mark Cullen
Producer: Marc Platt, Polly Cohen Johnsen and Michael Tadross
Cast: Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Seann William Scott, Adam Brody, Jason Lee and Michelle Trachtenberg

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