Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis in Cop OutCOP OUT

I bow to no one in my adoration for Chasing Amy, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks, and Clerks II. Still, I think it's safe to say that even those of us who frequently love the movies of New Jersey auteur Kevin Smith have always kind of wished he'd find a different director for them. His profanely hilarious, emotionally direct scripts can be exhilarating, but can you imagine how much better they might've played under the guidance of someone who actually knew where and how to position a camera?

It feels like a perversion of justice, then, for Smith - in his ninth feature - to finally step away from writing/directing duties with his action comedy Cop Out (written by Robb and Mark Cullen), because it just makes evident what was always suspected: Kevin Smith cannot direct. To be fair, Scorsese himself probably couldn't make anything out of a screenplay this asinine - a senseless, unfunny, and staggeringly inept compendium of buddy-flick touchstones that gets more and more awful the longer it drags on. (And at 110 minutes, that's a lo-o-o-ong time.) Yet given Cop Out's amateurish staging, plodding pacing, obvious music cues, and insistence on closeups that are way too close, Smith actually manages to make the film far worse than it otherwise might've been. Even the normally radiant Rashida Jones, here, emerges as a figure to cower from. That's gotta be some kind of first.

While the opening scene is profoundly annoying, it at least suggests the better, more clever outing that Cop Out could've been. Through achingly clunky exposition, we're introduced to NYPD detectives Jimmy (Bruce Willis, with an expression of "Has it really come to this?") and Paul (Tracy Morgan), nine-year partners preparing to extract information from a Hispanic drug dealer. Paul begs Jimmy to let him handle the interrogation. Jimmy initially refuses, as Paul has a habit of screwing these things up, but eventually relents. Paul attacks the suspect with a diatribe of famous cop-movie quotes from Heat, Training Day, and In the Heat of the Night ... quickly followed by less-appropriate lines from The Color Purple, Schindler's List, and Dirty Dancing. (And Die Hard. Har har.) With the compositions a mess and Morgan's comic apoplexy proving less grating within the small-screen confines of 30 Rock, this title-dropping sequence is utterly irritating, but not entirely devoid of promise for Cop Out as a whole. Maybe, you think, the movie will recognize that its characters are trapped in the sort of entertainingly junky cartoon that had its heyday back when Bruce Willis had hair. Maybe the inevitable shootouts and car chases and scenes of the detectives getting chewed out by their superior will be treated satirically.

They're not. With the utmost, and badly misguided, sincerity, the film delivers every hackneyed, lame-ass genre cliché you could possibly think of - there's even the bit where the vicious drug lord initiates a murder in a church by kneeling and saying, "Bless me, Father, for I am about to sin" - plus a few you'd likely forgotten about. (In the case of Cop Out's sassy, crotch-kicking 11-year-old, certainly clichés you'll wish you'd forgotten about.) Amazingly, though, Smith's movie hits higher peaks of obnoxiousness when aiming solely for comedy; the extended cameo by Seann William Scott, portraying a motor-mouthed, maturity-stunted ninja, is breathtakingly ill-conceived. Even more amazingly, the film is at its most embarrassing when aiming solely for sentiment. (While telling his child's stepfather that he deals with murderers and rapists every day, Jimmy hisses, "But you know who's the worst? People who try to humiliate fathers in front of their daughters." And you think: Really? Worse than rapists?)

The movie is a hideous blunder, and one hopefully to be soon forgotten by its director's fans. I will admit, however, that there was one moment here that made me smile, when Curb Your Enthusiasm's gloriously foul-mouthed Susie Essman showed up as a pissed-off mother, and restrained herself from barking profanities because her young son was present. In Essman's honor, let me just say that Cop Out was such an eff-ing piece of ess that I wanted to eff-ing blow my G.D. head off.


Brett Rickaby, Timothy Olyphant, and Radha Mitchell in The CraziesTHE CRAZIES

Considering that The Crazies - a remake of George A. Romero's 1973 horror film - finds the community of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, turning into slathering killers after digesting infected drinking water, I wish the movie was more fun than it is; director Breck Eisner's fright-flick rhythms are all too predictable, and while the viscera are kept to a relative minimum, there are too few memorable images on display. Still, the movie provides occasionally satisfying jolts and well-edited scenes set in a funeral parlor and car wash, and Timothy Olyphant makes for a terrifically engaging and empathetic lead. Refusing to be corralled out of town while pregnant wife Radha Mitchell remains detained, The Crazies' star turns to a far less stalwart friend and says, "Don't ask me why I can't leave without my wife, and I won't ask you why you can." Now that's a hero.


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