REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER/For 21st Century Media
Have you ever seen a film with a patently offensive premise, which you nevertheless enjoyed? For me, “Let’s Be Cops,” is such a vehicle.
The film involves a pair of male Ohio transplants, who have knocked around Los Angeles in hopes of realizing their dreams. These two roommates/best buds have made a pledge to one another. If they hit thirty without achieving substantive success, they would admit defeat and return to their Midwestern homes. The duo is confronted by a sobering reality-they have broken the big 3-0 and haven’t even sniffed success.
Once upon a time, Ryan (Jake Johnson from Fox Network’s “New Girl”) was seemingly on the fast track. The star quarterback of his college team, he was poised to pursue a career in the NFL. However, Jake ill-advisedly jumped off a roof at a party and injured himself. Wave goodbye to the glamorous modus vivendi of a professional athlete. No matter-Ryan has a back-up plan. He’s going to become an actor. Jake takes enormous pride in his one acting credit. It’s a disconcertingly upbeat television spot for a herpes medication.
While awaiting his elusive second acting gig, Ryan insinuates into the daily pick-up football games of local school-agers. Although these boys haven’t solicited his involvement, Jake insists on joining in. He purports to be coaching them. However, the unvarnished reality is that Jake is actually a ball hog, who relives his former athletic glory by dominating every scrimmage. This is one pathetic loser, who is consumed with self-delusion.
Justin (Damon Wayans Jr., also from “New Girl”), is only marginally more successful. At least, he has a job. Alas, he is stuck in a dead-ender, better suited as an entry position for a recent college grad. Justin is a low-ranking designer at a video design company. At a periodic pitch session, he presents his concept for a new game, which involves the perils of being a beat cop. Justin’s demeaning supervisor, Todd Cutler (Jonathan Lajorie) mocks the idea with his underlings joining in on the public humiliation. Justin’s boss suggests a ludicrous alternative-firefighters versus zombies. Of course, Todd’s lackeys reflexively express unfettered admiration for this ludicrous game concept.
Ryan and Justin have been invited to a reunion party, thrown by one of their erstwhile college classmates. They are laboring under the mistaken belief that it is a costume party. To enhance the verisimilitude of his pitch, Justin had obtained a pair of L.A.P.D. uniforms. Ryan suggests that the outfits offer a perfect costume for the party and Justin reluctantly agrees. Upon arrival, the boys are embarrassed to learn that it isn’t a costume party after all. It gets even worse. Ryan overhears his one-time chums wondering aloud what ever happened to his once promising future. Ouch!
Walking down the street, clad in their faux police outfits, Ryan and Justin can’t help but notice the deferential attitude that members of the public display towards them. Ryan is entertained to see how people automatically respond to the orders he barks, no matter how absurd they are. It is quite a balm to his battered ego.
Ryan, the less grounded of the pair, decides to escalate the masquerade. He purchases a decommissioned cop car on eBay, which he customizes with a L.A.P.D. decal kit and flashing emergency lights. Ryan also buys bullet-proof vests and other cop accoutrements. Justin recognizes how insane the whole scheme is. Nevertheless, he is lured into participating. You see, the night before, while he was visiting a local diner in uniform, he had bluffed some ominous hoodlums into leaving the establishment. A comely waitress, Josie (Nina Dobrev), had expressed gratitude to Justin for his intervention. So….continuing the impersonation seems to be an inviting option to this lovelorn loser.
Of course, this impersonation is not without complications. It soon spins wildly out of control. Mossi Kasic (James D’Arcy) is the ruthless leader of some local Russian mobsters. He takes vehement exception to the pair’s intrusion into his criminal fiefdom.
“Let’s Be Cops” benefits enormously from the excellent chemistry between Johnson and Wayans. They demonstrate contrasting personae and great comedic timing together. Once again, Wayans demonstrates his gift for physical comedy and penchant for rubber-faced contortions. In addition, the duo captures the poignancy of their characters’ slide into the realm of shattered dreams.
The supporting cast includes some excellent performances. Keegan-Michael Key (half of Comedy Central sketch series, Key & Peele) is particularly impressive as Pupa, one of Mossi’s English-mangling minions. Playing it straight, D’Arcy as the Eurotrash crime boss and Rob Riggle, playing an earnest policeman, provide a counterpoint to the comedic shenanigans of the co-protagonists. Late arrival, Andy Garcia plays Detective Brolin, a shrewd police supervisor. He adds much-needed gravitas to this light-hearted romp.
“Let’s Be Cops’ won’t be mistaken for a screen gem. Nevertheless, if you can disregard the ill-considered premise of impersonating police officers as joke fodder, this film delivers surprisingly effective entertainment.
*** R (for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity, violence and drug use) 104 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.