TV Stars Work Blue In Rowdy "Let's Be Cops"

Dorm-room ready comedy “Let’s Be Cops” sands Hollywood’s buddy-cop formula down to its base, shrewdly attempting to reset a genre decades past its prime. Its absurd premise – a man-child and his best friend impersonate police officers – affords the film a fierce sense of self-awareness that aids in the joke department, not to mention an anarchic bent that should appeal to college-aged audiences. Ultimately, it does an admirable – if not entirely successful – job of celebrating the same cliches it aims to undermine, all the while unloading major laughs at a good clip.

Most effectively, it’s an ideal stage for TV stars Jake Johnson (“New Girl”) and Damon Wayans Jr. (“Happy Endings”), providing the kind of cinematic playground where bromances tend to flourish. Wayans Jr. stars as Justin, a struggling video game developer with no social life to speak of. Following a pitch for a cop game gone wrong, Justin accompanies best friend, roommate, and fellow Purdue grad, Ryan (Johnson), to an alumni celebration. The duo mistakenly show up to the masquerade party in full police regalia, furthering Justin’s sphere of embarrassment.

But, post-party, as the pair mope through the streets of Los Angeles, they begin to attract the kind of attention and respect they’ve longed for. Ryan, sick of coaching little league football and starring in ads for herpes meds, is soon all-in on a life in blue, enrolling in his own fantasy camp for delusional idiots. Justin reluctantly follows, finding well-intentioned criminal activity more invigorating than anything else in his life. The film quickly gains the distinction of boasting felonious good guys, mostly aware of the illegality of their actions.

Make no mistake, the story is dumb and vaguely reprehensible, but writer-director Luke Greenfield (“The Girl Next Door”) and his cast know this, making no excuses for any of the characters. That they’re at all endearing is a testament to screenplay and actors alike. Slyly juggling all-out stupidity with a knowing, mischievous smile, Wayans Jr. and Johnson are their own commentary tracks, allowing the pic to have its cake and eat it, too, making for the rare R-rated raunchfest that gets funnier as it moves along.

Greenfield and company initially struggle to find the humor in the material, leaning on gross, lazy sight gags – one in particular is straight out of “Borat.” But when the leads improbably swap personas at the halfway point and Johnson becomes the straight man to Wayans’ frantic, faux-drug smuggler, the laughs come hard and fast. As the latter freaks out about an unsolicited drug trip, the former makes for a delightfully ludicrous authority figure, like a toddler finding the keys to a his dad’s motorcycle.

The villain – a bland, stereotypical street thug (James D’Arcy) – is conveniently introduced through a random fender bender, while Justin’s eventual love interest (Nina Dobrev) is a strained caricature of “action movie hottie.” But an extended cameo by a well-known character actor gives the film’s main conflict a veneer of prestige, and Rob Riggle (“Step Brothers”) is a welcome presence as a legitimate police officer. The way the comedian plays off the fake cop lingo of the leads is both endearing and hilarious, wonderfully coming to a head during the pic’s prerequisite, bullet-riddled climax.

Audiences expecting a genre classic might walk away disappointed, but it’s hard not to appreciate the pic’s devil-may-care attitude, Johnson’s prickly-but-likable screen persona, and Wayans’ effortless channeling of his famous father. Judging by the preview audience’s reaction, “Let’s Be Cops” is a surefire crowd-pleaser to be best enjoyed in the company of friends – occasionally short on laughs but never short on mayhem. It’s no “22 Jump Street,” but it should settle in nicely next to the genre’s more modest successes (“Blue Streak,” “Rush Hour”).

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: August 13, 2014
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Luke Greenfield
Screenwriter: Luke Greenfield, Nicholas Thomas
Starring: Damon Wayans Jr., Jake Johnson, Rob Riggle, Nina Dobrev, James D’Arcy
MPAA Rating: R (for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity, violence and drug use)