By Will Ashton
As far as sitcom-to-film actors go, Jake Johnson has had a pretty good run so far. Although he has only front-lined two films thus far, the films carried by the New Girl star bounced between good (Drinking Buddies) to very good (Safety Not Guaranteed). Perhaps that is what makes his first all-out straight comedy lead role in Let’s Be Cops so disappointing.
30-something slackers Ryan (Johnson) and Justin (Damon Wayans Jr.) are on their last means, as far as their lives in California go. While Justin has a hard-pressed dream of being a video game designer and Ryan has a half-assed dream of being an actor, neither has found much work. Save for one, who had a genital herpes commercial that still serves as both his claim to fame and his financial support.
In a last ditch effort to enjoy themselves despite their life situations, the pair go to a “dress up” party in a pair of authentic cop uniforms that are part of Justin’s dream video game pitch. Little do they know is that, apparently, the people around them—including real cops—can’t tell the difference between official cop uniforms and fake, basically store-bought copycats. So, being the lazy people they are, they coast by on their newfound authority instead of earning an honest wage. That is, until things get a little too out of their control. As they always do in these type of comedies.
There is an undeniable, realistic chemistry between Wayans Jr. and Johnson that compliments the movie’s depthless intentions. It’s clear—through having developed a real friendship—that they can use their compatibly to their advantage. But even their well-found chemistry can’t make up for how underwritten of a comedy Let’s Be Cops really is.
At best, this movie is a Funny or Die skit. Even before Let’s Be Cops reaches a third of its running time, it looks long-winded and confused of itself, and that’s before the juicer moments of the plot are supposed to take place. Director and co-writer Luke Greenfield, alongside co-writer Nicolas Thomas, probably had a good cocktail napkin-worth of ideas here—and probably produced a fairly funny bar conversation coming up with the plot. But once the movie gets away from, or overdoes, what makes the movie palatable—the working relationship of the two leads—there is nothing that can save Let’s Be Cops from being another tired, overplayed R-rated “raunchy” comedy failing to escape the tired desire for shock humor and gross-out jokes.
The only real bright spot in this rather turgid comedy is the occasional presence of Keegan-Michael Key, of Key & Peele fame. As a now veteran actor in the form of sporadic comedy, Key is the only one that seems to have a firm grasp of this style of comedy, and how to make to it at least bearable. Through material thick and thin, he can carry his overly ridiculous costume, make-up and voice through its overcooked design and produce some chuckles along the way, even if its just less than a handful.
Same can almost be said for Rob Riggle, but because he is so held back by his straight-man character, he can’t truly seep his goofy charm into his character. Other supporting actors, like Andy Garcia or Nina Dobrev, meanwhile, are essentially broken down to play stereotypes of former performances.
Also, even for a comedy, Let’s Be Cops is a really cheap looking movie, especially for a widely released one. Considering that other comedies this summer like Neighbors and 22 Jump Street—even if patchy—still looked relatively decent, this R-rated flick almost plays like a comedy from the past decade. Like a long-lost Farrelly brother comedy that the studio tried to hide, but decided to release at the last minute on the success of New Girl.
There are probably great things to come for these leads, especially Johnson. But this is just going to have to serve as a rather lame duck film for them both. Which, in later years, will probably be waiting ideally in the 5-dollar bin of Wal-Mart while customers—if they are intending to buy a film with Wayans Jr. or Johnson at all— walk past without a fatal glance in order to pick up a copy of one of their much better works.