There’s really no getting around the fact that LET’S BE COPS is a dumb movie about a couple of dumb guys doing exceedingly dumb things—bordering on dangerous. And while I don’t believe in ever, under any circumstance, shutting your brain down to enjoy a film, I do sometimes enjoy a movie that involves the characters shutting their own brains off and behaving in ill-advised ways. It helps when the dummies in question are played by some of my personal favorite comic actors like Jake Johnson, Rob Riggle and Keegan-Michael Key (I’m still trying to figure out if Damon Wayans Jr. has got anything going on in the talent department, but he’s warming on me).
LET’S BE COPS follows two best buddies, Ryan (Johnson) and Justin (Wayans), who are both having rough lives when we meet them. Justin is pitching a new video game to his boss that involves beat cops, and he even hires a couple of actors to dress as cops to help with his presentation, which goes horribly wrong when his boss wants to add zombies and other video game cliches to Justin’s simpler ideas. When the pair gets invited to what they think is a costume party, they don the authentic police uniforms and head out into the city, where they are immediately greeted with interest (from women) and respect (from men). Naturally, they grow to like the attention and decide to keep up the façade for a little longer.
Justin is never fully on board with the whole scam, which I guess makes him the voice of reason, and when the clearly mentally unbalanced Ryan buys a used cop car at auction and accessorizes it to look like a real cop car, things take many turns for the worse. A particular scene involving a “domestic abuse” situation with several sorority girls is truly painful to watch, and often quite funny.
Naturally, the film turns into a real caper film when Ryan and Justin get involved in a real case that involves organized crime (in the guise of James D’Arcy’s not-very-convincing baddie Mossi) and crooked cops. Riggle (THE HANGOVER) plays Officer Segars, a real officer who ends up looking up to Ryan’s courage in the field and skills as an investigator. LET’S BE COPS is at times a bit strange and sad the more you being to realize the Ryan won’t let this charade drop because it’s truly all he has in his life that makes him feel special. And the film doesn’t sugar coat his demented condition, which makes you fearful for his life at times.
What a film like this boils down to is laughs, and director/co-writer Luke Greenfield (THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, SOMETHING BORROWED) provides just barely enough to keep us hanging on, hoping the next set of jokes will be bigger and better (spoiler: they rarely are). Johnson, Riggle and even Wayans seem clearly capable of filling in a great deal of the script’s bare bones plot with decent improv, but there’s got to be something holding the improv together, and there just isn’t with LET’S BE COPS.
When the film is just about Ryan and Justin doing dumb shit, strangely things seem to work better than when the filmmakers force an actual story structure to the proceedings. Johnson and Wayans found they had enough of a comic chemistry making this film to justify bringing Wayans back to Johnson’s Fox series “New Girl” this past season, and to be honest they seem way more in synch in LET'S BE COPS than they do on the show, which is a plus, I suppose.
It’s not exactly ground-breaking news when a handful of likable and talented comic talents end up making a less-than-thrilling comedy, but here we are again. It’s tough sometimes watching people you know are funny have to struggle so hard to get a single laugh from their audience, but that’s what watching this film was like so often. There’s a foot chase that ends up in a hardware store, in which a naked man slides his full-frontal body right down Wayans face; it’s gross and disturbing, and it’s probably the highlight of the film. Do with that what you will.
Despite what you might have read, LET’S BE COPS is not a buddy-cop spoof; it’s actually the opposite of that. These two clowns are doing everything wrong, and mining jokes about how most of what they know about police work and procedure comes from TV, movies and YouTube videos. I’m more torn on this than I should be, but the truth is, the laughs just aren’t happening enough in this film to warrant recommending, but the leads are enjoyable enough that you likely won’t be miserable sitting through it with your idiot buddies.