The pleasant surprise of this summer? You bet!
By Chaz Lipp
Here’s what Let’s Be Cops has in common with the summer smash 22 Jump Street. Both are action-comedies about two best friends pretending to be something they’re not. Both feature Rob Riggle in a supporting role. Now, what do they not have in common? Let’s Be Cops is consistently funny and centers on a fresh premise while Jump Street peters out quickly after rehashing its vastly superior predecessor. Let’s Be Cops also displays a surprising amount of craft, with writer-director Luke Greenfield and co-writer Nicholas Thomas instilling a real sense of suspense and danger in their action scenes. The trailer suggested a one-joke movie, but Let’s Be Cops has enough laughs, heart, and energy to make it the surprise of the summer.
Much of the film’s success is a direct result of the chemistry between its stars. It’s yet another bromantic pairing of overgrown boys struggling to become men, but Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. are believable as best buds whose cop costumes lead to new “career” as law enforcement officers. For awhile it’s a great fantasy. Ryan (Johnson) and Justin (Wayans, Jr.) are Ohio guys who moved to L.A. with showbiz dreams. The former’s only claim to acting fame has been an awkward appearance in a herpes medication commercial (“I made $11,000 off that commercial, I’ve been living off that for two years,” he boasts). The latter is an assistant video game developer whose ideas are consistently shut down by his jerk boss. They promised each other they’d return to Ohio if they hadn’t “made it” by 30, and now “we’re 30 as shit,” as Justin succinctly puts it.
A pair of LAPD costumes worn to a party has a liberating effect on them. Suddenly they’re commanding the respect of everyone around them, from stoners on the street to hot chicks to mafia guys. In fact, it’s that last group that sparks higher ambitions in Ryan. Initially he just wants some revenge against crime boss Mossi (James D’Arcy) for ripping the front bumper off his car and driving off. But as he and Justin discover that Mossi and his goons are strong-arming local businesses, such as the eatery in which Justin’s love interest Josie (Nina Dobrev) works, they begin treating their costumes as real uniforms. Justin is the sensible one, having researched online just how punishable impersonating a police officer can be. He’s sometimes a little too quick to go along with Ryan’s more reckless instincts, but as the hole they dig for themselves into grows deeper, they must man up and do their best to help take down Mossi.
If anything, despite an ever-increasing sense of ludicrous implausibility, Let’s Be Cops gets a little too serious. It’s as if director Luke Greenfield began to believe he was making an actual cop thriller, just as his characters begin to believe they’re real police officers (Ryan even keeps “promoting” himself, to Justin’s consternation). Actually that’s a pretty neat trick Greenfield pulls off. We begin to care about these two “losers” attempts to do something meaningful with their lives. It helps that the villains are genuinely badass, with James D’Arcy preening like a psycho Ethan Hawke clone. None other than Andy Garcia shows up late in the film as a mafia boss who has Ryan and Justin’s number. Garcia, with limited screen time, adds a palpable menace to the proceedings – playing the role as straight as possible was the right choice. Meanwhile, Rob Riggle has some good moments as beat cop Officer Segars, who believes Ryan and Justin are the real deal.
Is it crude? Hell yes. Drug humor (wait till you see Wayans, Jr. as a very reluctant crystal meth smoker), full-frontal male nudity, foul-mouthed children, and rampant sex jokes will send the squeamish running for the exit doors. But my face was sore from laughing so much by the time the end credits rolled. Going into Let’s Be Cops I was hoping for a few good laughs, but I left with a genuine appreciation for the craft that went into what could’ve easily been a piece a grade-Z crap. Will it win any awards? Probably not. Will it rake in as much money than that other buddy-cop comedy of this summer, 22 Jump Street? Extremely doubtful. But for anyone looking to beat the August heat with a fun lark, Let’s Be Cops is a go-to movie.
Images: 20th Century Fox