So Fox decided that critics had the right to remain silent (ha ha) about their new comedy Let’s Be Cops — out today in wide release — choosing not to screen it in advance for media. This is usually a sign that a movie is irredeemably terrible! (I mean, c’mon, studios screened Trans4mers and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for critics.) But since your film editor apparently wasn’t the target audience for this one, I decided that if I was going to check it out on opening night, I’d bring along a more interesting (and interested) party: a real New York cop.
Michael Miller* has over a decade on the job, first as a uniformed patrol officer, then as detective. He’s worked a variety of beats, and when we first spoke, he admitted to being “a little OCD” about watching his work in movies and on television, where they just plain get a lot of stuff wrong. One example: “When you arrive to the scene, the lights don’t stay on, on the car. When you shut the car off, the lights go off. So when you see them get somewhere in the movies, and the cars are there and all the lights are going and the sirens are going, that’s all for effect.” In general, he finds that TV shows tend to get the details right (“NYPD Blue was always the more accurate show, in terms of terminology, mannerisms, way of life”), though there are even exceptions to that (Third Watch “got the uniforms all wrong”).
But he’s also not an obsessive viewer of procedurals — in fact, given the choice, he tends to shy away from cop shows and movies, “I think maybe because I do it all the time, I like to remove myself from it when I have the opportunity to… When I first got in the job, I watched Cops all the time. I can’t watch that. Not at all.”
Let’s Be Cops is, to put it mildly, not Cops. It concerns a pair of just-turned-30 slackers (played by New Girl’s Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr.) who are feeling particularly adrift when they dress up as uniformed cops for a costume party — and while walking the streets afterwards, find themselves getting respect from strangers, eyed by pretty girls, and kissed by scavenger-hunting bachelorette parties.
I asked Det. Miller if that mirrored his own experience of walking the streets in the uniform for the first time. “It all depends on where you are,” he told me, “because some areas, having the uniform on is not very welcome! But yes, that stuff does happen… What happened in the movie is an example of embellishing a little, I can’t say I’ve ever had that many women throw themselves at me on the sidewalk. I’d love to say that it happened! But it never happened.”
But from his experience, the motives of the film’s fake cops — a sense of importance, a bit of glory, a hint of power — rang true. “I have made arrests for impersonation before,” he told me. “One in particular was a bail bondsman, who when he wasn’t doing that, pretended he was a real cop — when stopped, he identified himself as such. So he was almost in law enforcement, I guess you’d say, and he just advanced it in his own mind.”
But the film does take, ultimately, a pro-police stance; one character even decides to take a crack at the real thing. Does Miller think the movie could inspire similar thinking in the audience — the way that, say, Top Gun ratcheted up enlistments back in the ‘80s? “I certainly don’t think anyone watching this movie, I don’t think it would be the defining moment where they’d say, Hey, I wanna be a cop. Maybe End of Watch, you’d wanna be a cop? But this movie, I’m sure, won’t — and if they did make that decision, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t get further than just making that decision.”
From my seat, Let’s Be Cops is a pretty disposable movie, the kind of picture that seems destined for Sunday afternoons on TBS. It coasts heavily on the considerable charm and camaraderie of its leads, who get off a fair number of good lines, and land some laughs with their slightly off-kilter readings (there’s something just right about how Johnson says, of the sex-starved resident of an apartment where they’re conducting a stakeout, “I think she’s an interesting lady and she’s got a lot to offer this team!”).
Many of the comic set pieces are sort of half-thought-out, and the climax makes the mistake that police comedies have made since Beverly Hills Cop, of taking their shoot-outs and crime plots seriously (as if anyone actually cares). Its timing could not be worse: between the Eric Garner case in New York and the nightmare in Ferguson, it’s an odd moment for a lightweight wish-fulfillment comedy about the power one wields in a police uniform. But those questions are well beyond the scope of this tossed-off film, and I’ll give it this much: it’s better than plenty of films that Fox had no problem screening for critics (how ya doin’, A Good Day to Die Hard).
But who cares what I think? On the cop comedy scale, compared to something like The Other Guys (“Not accurate at all, funny nonetheless,” according to our source), Let’s Be Cops does pretty well: “I’d say, I liked this movie better than The Other Guys. I thought it was funnier,” Det. Miller says. “I thought it was an entertaining movie. I would recommend it, for a quick laugh… For a lack of a better term, it’s stupid-funny.”
For the record, “stupid-funny” is a more succinct and accurate review of Let’s Be Cops than all of my rambling analysis. Is this guy after my job?
*Not his real name.