Directed by: Luke Greenfield
Premise: Two middle aged pals (Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson) dress up as police officers for a costume party and discover that people think they are real cops. The pair continues to impersonate police officers but what begins as fun gradually becomes more dangerous.
What Works: The buddy cop film is an overly familiar genre from movies like Lethal Weapon, 48 Hrs., Bad Boys, Rush Hour, The Heat, and Hot Fuzz. The formula has been done so many times that it’s rare to get a movie that contributes anything new to the genre but the filmmakers of Let’s Be Cops have managed to make a film that is funny, smart, and even a little subversive. The picture begins with a pair of middle age men realizing that their lives haven’t worked out the way that they expected. This is done very credibly, with Jake Johnson’s character dwelling on his college victories and Damon Wayans Jr.’s character struggling in a dead end job. The two lead characters come across genuine and even though they do some really stupid things in the course of the movie, they are empathetic enough and their situation is presented with enough credibility to make their choices believable. One of the clever aspects of Let’s Be Cops is the way in which it adapts the buddy cop story. This film fits the mold and makes reference to many of the clichés of the genre but it has an interesting wrinkle in that these guys are not genuine police offers. Rather, their notion of police work is informed by other law enforcement movies and by video games; in fact, Wayans’ character is a video game programmer trying to develop a first person shooter video game from the point of view of a police officer. This is where Let’s Be Cops manages to be a little subversive. The movie begins as a silly comedy in which two guys put on police uniforms and assume the power that comes with the badge. But over the course of the story they come into contact with the real danger of police work and gradually discover the link between authority and responsibility. This is a movie that is, at least in part, about the difference between the realities of police work and the glamorized version of it presented in movies and television shows. That gives Let’s Be Cops an added level of intelligence that goes beyond what viewers would expect from a movie like this.
What Doesn’t: The story of Let’s Be Cops follows the little-white-lie formula and in that respect there isn’t much in the movie that is surprising. The lead characters get away with a small lie and instead of coming clean they exploit it, making friends and gaining social stature while the lie becomes increasingly flimsy. Most viewers will see where this is going. The humor of Let’s Be Cops is hit and miss. Some of the comic bits work very well and others don’t and a few of the set pieces are a little out of synch with the tone of the rest of the movie. This is a case where a lot of the best humor was showcased in the trailer. The movie takes a more serious tone in its second half and that works well—the mix of comedy and violence is done better here than in The Heat—but viewers expecting something like Police Academy will find the movie is closer to Bad Boys. The politics of Let’s Be Cops may be a sticking point for some viewers. This film has been released at a moment in time in which the function of law enforcement and the use of violent force by police officers has been put under the microscope. For that reason, some viewers may approach Let’s Be Cops with an added degree of sensitivity. Let’s Be Cops isn’t intended to be a serious statement about law enforcement but all cop movies inherently entertain the topic. The picture has some subversive elements but the politics of Let’s Be Cops are muddled and the movie has an inconsistent regard for the use and abuse of authority.
Bottom Line: Let’s Be Cops is a better movie than its advertising campaign lets on. The movie has credible characters and a story that mostly comes together. It also manages to be a little subversive, even if the filmmakers dull that edge in their efforts to make the film more commercial.
Episode: #505 (August 24, 2014)