Let's Be Cops has a pretty ingeniously simple plot and hook. New Girl co-stars, comedians Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr., play a pair of thirty-something L.A. losers, Ryan and Justin, who pretend to be cops in order to get cheap thrills and respect from strangers while getting into some legitimately gut busting hijinks and comedic situations. It's too bad this thin premise is stretched and morphed into a overly conventional episode of any procedural cop drama with a clunky, by-the-numbers script and surprising amount of violence and brutality.
If you can get over the sheer stupidity, risk, and danger of pretending to be LAPD officers purely for entertainment, the film starts off fairly well with plenty of laughs and with a classic Backstreet Boys, no less. It is curious and amusing to set the film in Los Angeles, where the police are probably some of the least revered, respected, or honoured. Probably the most unbelievable sequence involves attractive women on the street, one after another, eyeing the pair all flirty while they stroll by in uniform. However, once you get past the absurdity, co-writer/director Luke Greenfield's very loose comedy becomes a very watchable buddy comedy for its first half thanks in part to Johnson's commitment to wild escalation and Wayans' physical comedy. It's unfortunate how the film takes a sharp right turn and delves into an inconsistent drama about losers taking responsibility and building their own courage under preposterous circumstances as it loses interest in its own story.
What makes Let's Be Cops initially watchable and, at times, hilarious is the fluid chemistry between Johnson and Wayans, who sell every moment (along with Rob Riggle playing an acutal cop), riffing off each other, and hyping each other's antics. It's a showcase for their comedic talents until they're forced to actually become policeman who do detective work, solve real crimes, get shot, and fight bad guys. It's strange just how predictable of a police drama it becomes with an over the top gangster villain (an unrecognizable James D'Arcy) and shoehorned love interest (an underused Nina Dobrev). Most of the actors elevate and overcome their material, including comics Keegan-Michael Key and Natasha Leggero in small roles, yet still must serve the nothing plot.
Let's Be Cops would have been so much more enjoyable if it had coasted on its buddy cop mockery and the premise of two idiots impersonating cops. Instead, it gets bogged down with an overly conventional crime story with little humour in the second half of the film as it wastes all the goodwill and antics of its two charming leads. You can imagine them as their New Girl characters, Nick and Coach, essentially getting in the same trouble (with bullets flying) in an episode and that's sort of the appeal of the film that's ultimately wasted. By riffing on the formulaic buddy cop movie genre, it actually becomes one and to its detriment.
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