2014 - 104 minutes
Directed by: Luke Greenfield
Written by: Luke Greenfield, Nicholas Thomas
Starring: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr., Rob Riggle, Nina Dobrev, Keegan-Michael Kay, James D'Arcy, Andy
Impersonating a police officer is a serious offense, and impersonating a buddy comedy is offensive to those who prefer their onscreen duos to be entertaining. Let’s Be Cops is an empty approximation of a genre, a one-joke movie that’s painfully repetitive and unfunny. It’s as if director Luke Greenfield and his co-writer Nicholas Thomas came up with the tagline – “Fake Cops, Real Trouble” – and then just kinda winged it from there. Leads Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. each possess natural charisma, but no amount of likeability can save this slack shtick.
Ryan (Johnson) and Justin (Wayans Jr.) are 30-year-olds in a malaise, defined by a one-dimensional disappointment. Ryan is a former football star turned failed actor; Justin is a flunkey at a videogame design company. Donning the realistic police uniforms used by Justin in a pitch meeting, the friends head to a college reunion costume party, which is actually a masquerade ball. The uncomfortable situation is quickly dropped a few seconds after the faux cops make their entrance, a common theme as the movie ambles to the next misguided gag. They interact with their old classmates, none of them batting an eye at the cop gear.
Walking the streets in their getups, Ryan and Justin discover that the public listens to uniformed officers and, perhaps more importantly, girls stare at them. So, they decide to continue the charade and be cops. This leads to forced conflict between the friends, with Ryan being gung-ho and Justin resistant, only going along with the idea when the waitress he has a crush on (Nina Dobrev) shows interest. Things get real when the guys cross paths with generic Eastern European gangsters, and things get real stupid as bad comedy gives way to even worse action.
Johnson and Wayans Jr. are invested and their chemistry is evident, but timing they’ve cultivated on the TV series New Girl doesn’t translate here. Banter that works in short bursts early on becomes tiresome as Let’s Be Cops drags on and feels more and more like a series of sketches strung together. Instead of relying on his stars, Greenfield uses them as setup for uninspired slapstick, including a fat naked man sprawled spread-eagle on Wayans’ face and a knockdown drag-out with a pair of rough-and-tumble women. By the time we get to the bland final act face-off scenario, we’re supposed to take all this nonsense seriously and are left to imagine real arcs for these idiots.
No forward momentum is ever established and disjointed scenes don’t build or rely on what had come before. One moment Ryan, in full cop mode, gleefully steals change from a stopped car so he can “do his laundry for a week” – he’s flat broke, you see. In short order and with no explanation he’s buying a used cop car on eBay for $2,000; never mind how much the sirens, scanners, decals, and everything else cost.
Looking for continuity in farcical comedy is admittedly a fool’s errand, but it’s hard not to notice when there’s nothing else going on. The somewhat comparable 21 Jump Street and its sequel have inertia and use subversion to call attention the absurdity while indulging in it. Also, those movies are funny. Let’s Be Cops is just faking it. In the grand tradition of cinematic cops, these clowns need to turn in their badge and gun, and, in what would be the first interesting twist, never get them back.