Let's Be Cops tries to offer coming-of-age gravitas, action movie thrills and comedic slapstick, but never excels at any one of them.
Let's Be Cops follows Ryan (Jake Johnson) and Justin (Damon Wayans Jr.), two thirty-something men-children living out the fading embers of their respective dreams in cutthroat L.A. After much embarrassment at a college reunion
costume masquerade party, Ryan and Justin discover that their mock police uniforms buy them much more respect and female adoration than they get in regular life.
Embracing their faux passport to a better life, Ryan and Justin push their impersonation to the limit; but for all the respect (and even love) they get for being cops, they soon find themselves sinking quickly into the darker side of police work - where nightmarish criminals are painting targets on their backs, and where the bullets that go flying carry the very real threat of death.
Directed by Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door), Let's Be Cops is a harmless enough and charming comedy flick - but unfortunately it is also a doubling up of cliches and recycled tropes. On the one hand, the film is a rehash of so many buddy cop films; on the other hand, it's also a an overly familiar coming-of-age tale for slackers. That's two films you've seen many times before for the price of one - but two solid comedic leads make it at least worth a look (if only as a future rental).
On a directorial level, the film is solid work from Greenfield, opting for a more structured style rather than the loose improv of a Judd Apatow or Adam McKay film. There is a purposed story and vision at work, and most of the comedic hijinks are molded around that purpose (not vice versa). On the whole, the movie is shot competently with a crisp cinematography that's better than the average comedy film.
Tone-wise, the movie alternates between sarcastic slapstick humor and a darkly serious action flick; it's an uneven shift in most cases, one that really tests the limits of both the film's premise, and the script by Greenfield and Nicholas Thomas. The movie is at its best when the two leads are engaged in silly and irreverent cop pranks; but it unfortunately never seems to hold that as its focus for very long. Instead, Let's Be Cops tries to offer coming-of-age gravitas, action movie thrills and comedic slapstick, but never excels at any one of them.
That uncertainty of identity is an issue that trickles all the way down to the performances of the cast. New Girl stars Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. may be a good sarcastic/bombastic pairing in that venue, but in this film it's an odd pairing that barely holds the core together. Wayans Jr.'s nasally energetic nerd seems to exist in a different type of movie than Johnson's wise-cracking but vulnerable screwball; the former seems to be going for classic Jim Carey, while the latter seems to be in another one of his indie genre comedies, playing another deeply-wounded soul cloaked in trash-talk armor. Both guys are charming on their own, and the chemistry is there - but on a character level, Ryan and Justin never quite come together. Just two comedians with conflicting schticks sharing the screen.
Caught in that gray middle are a lot of promising supporting characters. Rob Riggle gets an equally strange funny/serious schtick to balance, which also never quite gels; meanwhile, Nina Dobrev (Vampire Dairies) gets half a love interest character to fill with cute charm. James D'Arcy (Cloud Atlas) is all but unrecognizable playing a terrifying villain who would be more at home in a '80s/90s action flick - but in a comedy(?) film, D'Arcy's strong performance comes off as weirdly out-of-place. In fact, only bit parts by the likes of Andy Garcia, Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele) and Natasha Leggero (Suburgatory) offer the more traditional comedy movie cameos that play well and add flavor to the experience. The rest of the cast has to make do with what they were given on paper.
In the end, Let's Be Cops isn't terrible - it's just a long ways from being good or even memorable, for that matter. It's an odd mishmash of clichéd pieces that are never really arranged cohesively enough for the cast or filmmakers to make something fun - or meaningful - or thrilling - out of them. No need at all to rush out to theaters expecting that last big laugh of the summer movie season; come fall, you'll be glad you waited to catch these Cops walking the beat on your TV screen.
Let's Be Cops is now in theaters. It is 104 minutes long and is Rated R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity, violence and drug use.