dir: Luke Greenfield, 2014
In the endless cacophony of production, writing, shooting, contracts, agents, calls, casting, distribution deals, and pitching, I doubt that anyone took time to think twice about Let’s Be Cops. More specifically, this film could’ve come out any year besides 2014 and may have had a chance.
But, life don’t work like that.
For me, the continued string of killings of black folk at the hands of police wholly defined 2014. On a broader scale however, I think this is true for anyone. Whether you support the police, the protesters, or are somewhere in between. Only the egregiously isolated or ignorant, and the most blue-blooded of the 1% could be inoculated, from this bloody legacy. No matter where you were, you knew someone who was talking about it. And, with the rise of voices in the then nascent #BlackLivesMatter movement post-Mike Brown’s killing, the summer was anything but a happy one.
And yet somehow Let’s Be Cops had an (initially) healthy media run, and sauntered its way into theaters in August.
I’ll admit that part of me is sad that this film can’t be appreciated in light of public events. Not for the sentiments it seems to engender (I’ll get to this in a minute), but because as a New Girl fan it’s actually fun to see Coach and Nick live out this bizarro fantasy. That and some genuinely funny moments allow me to give this film some credence.
Emphasis on some.
In a nutshell: Friends and middle-aged roommates Ryan and Justin are at the end of their rope. After a mishap at a collegiate masquerade ball, the two are mistaken for actual police officers in the street and proceed to run amok in a series of comedic moments. Foolery and various subplots ensue. Justin’s whiny hand-wringing complements Ryan’s zany irreverence, calling back to lord knows how many TV duos. The dynamic is great though because it has you questioning Ryan’s insanity while also laughing at how incredibly foolish he is. In addition, a couple choice cameos are a breath of fresh air between the increasingly drawn out latter two acts.
At its core, Cops feels like an extended spin-off episode of New Girl. But with less funny writing. If you approach the film in that way, it’s much easier to watch. While there is much suspension of belief in watching any film, there’s something about watching Cops that just screams “unbelievable.” Maybe it’s the timing with real world events. Maybe it’s the fact that there’s no way two guys in knock off police uniforms wouldn’t be yoked up or shot at some point. Maybe it’s the fact that I saw it in HD and I’m still weirded out by how high the definition is. (Seriously, that shit is still weird and I may never get used to it.) But that’s just me.
Ideally, placing Cops in a realm of the sitcom makes sense. Sitcoms survive off of creating increasingly humorous and unbelievable situations to set up jokes. That’s it. You’re setup to laugh every minute or so. When Cops sticks to that formula, it’s at its best.
Sadly, since it’s a film, it has to throw in the rest of the stew. As a result, quite a bit of Cops suffers from half-baked emotional depth, a cookie cutter romantic interest, and a villain whose very existence is grating. In effect, the existing funny is outshined by the need to simply fill the running time with a plot coherent enough to keep you in your seat. It’s the worst kind of carrot and donkey setup, because when the funny * is * there it’s good. So you sit through all the bullshit, anxiously awaiting a reason to laugh again. That’s one of the biggest tragedies of this film: what could have been an outrageously funny set of TV episodes (or maybe a whole different film) becomes a mediocre 104 minutes. Such is life.
But let’s get deep, eh? I’d like to talk about one main reason why Cops is weird.
Throughout the film, there’s this increasingly zany set of hijinks perpetrated by Ryan and Justin. They parade around town living out esteem boosting fantasies like two emotionally deprived teenage boys. As a result, many of the episodes are often sophomoric in both content and ideation. But, when the romp comes to an end in the final act, by way of Office Segars, there is this subtextual nod to the fact that police work is a hard job that should be treated with respect; that the uniform is “earned.”
On a surface level, this sparks a true brotherhood moment between the duo and a local cop, and inspires them both to get their shit together, respectively.
I’d like to examine the timely irony of that entire setup.
By all means, as superficial as it is, Officer Segars is the most professional cop in the film. He’s light-hearted and does things “by the book,” even if he has a certain inexplicable disdain for his partner. Thus, his rescue of the bumbling duo and later admonishment of them is rightful. In all manners of speaking, he is supposed to be the “good cop.” There’s been a lot of talk about good cops in the past year. But, if we assume that professionalism, respect for the uniform, and general humanity are tenets of good cop-ness, what does that mean for real life? I’m not naive enough to be seriously projecting the notions and lessons of an above average comedy to the here and now, but, in all art there are moments of truthful irony and parallelism.
If we do take Cops’ simplistic rhetoric seriously, then the cops who helped snuff out the lives of various black people in 2014 (and beyond), are by default not good cops. In fact, one can posit that they are the Ryans and Justins of our world, running around playing cowboys and natives with live ammunition, dispensing “justice” as they see it and being protected by a blue shield. Seriously, watch the video of Tamir Rice being gunned down and tell me that doesn’t remind you of Ryan’s gallivanting in his (counterfeit) police cruiser. What’s more, think about the many Officer Seagars’ who are booted and ostracized from the force for their upholding of basic human rights and decency, like Cariol Horne of Buffalo, NY.
Seriously, there’s something sadly funny about a film that is low key pro-cop exposing the fundamental truths of why the American police force is not as heroic as it prides itself on being. And yes, Let’s Be Cops is most likely too triggering at this point to even watch for most folks. But, if you’re in the need for a run of the mill shlubby dude mid-life crisis buddy cop comedy film that isn’t directed by the likes of Judd Apatow, it might just be for you. Additionally, while the film at large is a mess, I do appreciate it for its unintended additions to a national discussion that must be had in order to create change, at every opportunity.
Let’s Be Cops is streaming on Amazon Prime.
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope