"Cop Out" is a clumsy postmodern buddy cop flick that stuffs as many genre references as it can into the ceaseless patter between Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis.
They play our paired police — detectives Paul Hodges and Jimmy Monroe, respectively — and they might as well be in different movies. Willis, a veteran of cop films like the "Die Hard" films and most recently "Surrogates," is our unmistakable straight man. Almost charmingly, he's actually trying to solve crimes.
Hodges, however, is a parody. Realism is far in the rearview whenever Morgan is on screen and one can't help wondering how his partner — let alone his wife (Rashida Jones) — can treat a cartoon so much like a human.
Director Kevin Smith gives Morgan, the former "Saturday Night Live" cast member and current "30 Rock" co-star, copious room to let loose. He's the kind of comedian who's naturally funny; bottling him would be foolish.
For better and worse, "Cop Out" is his film. Morgan rattles off movie quotes (everything from "Training Day" to "The Color Purple"), disguises himself in a cell phone costume, wildly vacillates emotionally, uses cute words like "nincompoop" and occasionally spouts comically lucid definitions like a human Wikipedia.
This plot line unbelievably mixes with one involving Monroe's daughter's impending wedding. Divorced, his ex-wife (Francine Swift) has found a wealthy, arrogant second husband (Jason Lee) who is offering to pay for the daughter's wedding. Played by Michelle Trachtenberg, the daughter is asking Monroe for a $48,000 wedding — making her more a villain than the lethal drug gang.
The detectives' pursuit ropes in an amateurish burglar (Seann William Scott), who proves a surprisingly good fit with Morgan's madcap energy. His schtick here is a mimicking game that, with Morgan, turns into a Bugs Bunny routine — the movie's best laugh.
Others make brief appearances: Adam Brody and Kevin Pollack as unnecessary rival police; Fred Armisen as a Russian lawyer; Susie Essman as a gun-totting suburban mother whose five minutes cackle brilliantly with foul language. The violent gang leader Poh Boy is played by Guillermo Diaz in a part that might have been better comedic rather than menacing.
Interracial cop films, from "48 Hours" to "Lethal Weapon," are a genre by themselves, but there's virtually no racial material here, sapping it of friction.
Smith has made dialogue between two guys a staple since his indie breakthrough, "Clerks." He's since made some terrible films ("Dogma" taking the cake) and "Cop Out" finds him for the first time directing from a script not his own.
Like Hodges exclaims during a blitz of movie impressions, "Cop Out" is an homage. Harold Faltermeyer's synthesizer-heavy score recalls his soundtrack from "Beverly Hills Cop," the buddy cop classic that "Cop Out" falls well short of.