Let's Be Cops (2014) / Comedy-Action

MPAA Rated: R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity, violence and drug use
Running Time: 104 min.

Cast: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr. Nina Dobrev, James D'Arcy, Rob Riggle, Andy Garcia, Keegan-Michael Key, Jonathan Lajoie, Natasha Leggero
Cakeo: Luke Greenfield
Director: Luke Greenfield
Screenplay: Luke Greenfield, Nicholas Thomas

Review published August 13, 2014

2014 already saw the release of Ride Along, a buddy-cop movie in which one of the two cops in the patrol car wasn't a real police officer, and had to pretend to be one in order to take down perps, only to get in a whole heap of trouble when they turn over a rock to expose some vicious gun smugglers.  Let's Be Cops must think it is just a smidge original than that identical premise since it is R rated and features both cops in the vehicle pretending to be real.  Not that this take is any worse than that, as both films are formula movies that merely present situations in order to elicit laughs from an audience not looking for anything more than that, but it sure could try harder to be something more than excessively contrived.

Jake Johnson (Neighbors, The LEGO Movie) co-stars as Ryan, generally regarded as a failure in most things he's tried to do, which includes a sports career and any acting gigs beyond embarrassing commercials for herpes products. His best friend Justin (Wayans, The Other Guys) has fared little better, trying his hand in the design of video games, with his latest pitch, a police sim called "Patrolman", getting shot down by the company's d-bag CEO (Lajoie, Wrong Cops) for not being sensational enough. Invited to a masquerade party they've foolishly interpreted to be a costume party, the two don the very realistic promotional police uniforms made to pitch the game, but en route they get mistaken for real LAPD.  Now seen as cops, the two losers feel like big men again, gaining the respect, fear and admiration of the public around them.  However, fantasy turns into potentially deadly reality when the two get on the wrong side of a vicious Eastern European gangster named Mossi (D'Arcy, Hitchcock), who is determined that he be the one who runs the streets.

Johnson and Wayans are no strangers to working together, both members of the FOX-TV comedy, "The New Girl". They're both likeable actors, though their chemistry, while believable, just doesn't take off into uproarious hilarity, probably because their buddy-comedy interplay is more 'buddy' and less 'comedy'.  The script by Nicholas Thomas (Go Sick) and Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door, The Animal), who also directs, feels very loose and largely improvised, and the production does miss the kind of great ad-libbing comedian at the forefront to turn amusing situations and generate knee-slapping guffaws.  Many of the film's best punch lines have ended up in the movie's trailer, so one might nearly rightfully conclude that this thin idea might have made for a funnier skit on a sketch comedy show than as a full-fledged motion picture release.

This is one of those movies that has sporadic bits of amusement, but in between these, one can easily see the wheels spinning vainly in the effort to drum up cheap laughs.  Potty-mouthed kids, drug humor, racial jokes, gay jokes, and a naked fat man whose sweaty testicles get uncomfortably close to the face of one of the protagonists -- it's all right there in the R-rated blueprint of modern-day comedies.  At least Borat had the conviction to make a balls-to-the-wall raunchy comedy; Let's Be Cops is more about playing just toying with naughtiness but pulling back in case someone changed their mind to try to recoup their investment by editing a PG-13 action flick out of it. 

There's also a hard-to-imagine romance between Justin and an impossibly gorgeous waitress named Josie (Dobrev, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) whose role in this film serves to plug in every major contrivance, as she not only works in the boys' favorite restaurant, but Mossi is putting the squeeze on this very establishment, she also is the would-be main squeeze of the big bad Mossi, her love of macho men like cops keeps the more reserved Justin on the hook, and then her side occupation of being a make-up artists for movies figures in when one of the men decides to go undercover in dreadlocks, grillz, and face and neck tats.

While there are enough moments of amusement to not be an out-and-out bore, Let's Be Cops suffers from the kind of tone that emerges when the movie is screened in front of too many test audiences and scenes are taken out or re-shot in order to try to make it pleasing for a broad crowd.  One such scene that must have obviously been tinkered with too many times involves Ryan promoting himself to a more dapper-looking detective, but in the very same scene we see his civilian garb and badge necklace transform into the cop uniform he'd been wearing all along.  If there's one set of scenes that could have easily been amended, it's the rather dark and somewhat serious climax of the film, which involved real threats and torture, taking what had once been a very lighthearted romp and making it a Lethal Weapon wanna-be, except without Richard Donner's sure hand to balance things out.

The closing credits feature extra scenes of the duo having fun messing around with the public in their uniforms, none of it relating to the main plot.  More of these sorts of scenes would have gone a long way to making the film funnier, if not better, than straining for laughs to try to shoehorn the men into actual danger at the hands of cutthroat gangsters that have no sense of humor whatsoever.  While Let's Be Cops might meet well for those just looking for a few low-grade yuks as the second bill the drive-in to pass the time, for my cinematic dollar, I prefer more imagination in my comedies about two guys playing make-believe.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo