If one day the world decides to trace the history of internet celebrity back to a single person, that person should be Kevin Smith. The Chris Crockers, Perez Hiltons, and Jeffree Stars of this world have claimed their slice of flash-in-the-pan rubbernecking fame, but even though Kevin Smith entered the conversation as the writer/director of Clerks and Chasing Amy, he's leaving behind a powerful legacy: just bring up his name on the internet, and it seems people immediately start picking sides. I can't think of a single person whose name inspires more squabbling online -- and specifically online -- than he does, and the impending release of Cop Out (Smith's first film as a director-for hire) has sent the regular round of heated debates and criticisms rippling through not one, but all of the message boards and social networks I'm apart of.
Personally, I like Kevin Smith. As the old argument goes, he's a gifted public speaker who knows his way around the English language, and helped popularize talk about popular culture within popular culture. That said, his output over the last decade has been noticeably shaky: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is a transparent and frequently one-note cash-in, Jersey Girl means well but quickly becomes cloying and syrupy, Clerks II has a rock-solid emotional heart and a slew of jokes that fail to stand the test of time, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno is a fitfully amusing film that reeks of desperation. He's lined up some interesting projects on the horizon, such as the hockey comedy Hit Somebody and the horror movie Red State, but for now, we have Cop Out, a film that can be viewed in one of three ways.
Smith has been threatening to branch out as a director for most of the aughts, and at long last, all that talk has given way to something. Cop Out marks his first step onto a larger stage, and regardless of how one feels about the final product, this is a more-than-passable Hollywood picture with the traditional gloss, with Smith doing the kinds of things he often claimed he'd never do. Cop Out is not an action movie (only two scenes in the movie qualify, and they couldn't add up to more than 15 minutes of screen time), but Smith stages all of the material with a surprising ease (if not visual panache). Yeah, okay, it's true that the bar's been set pretty low (as one internet forumite complained, "any lower and you'd praise him just for showing up on set"), and there are a few times when Smith the editor needs to learn a little more discipline, but Smith the director still puts forth the required effort to clear the bar in question; I doubt ayone would look at the film and immediately think that his helming experience was mostly limited to people standing around talking about sex.
You also wouldn't look at the film and think of the filmmaking at all, because Cop Out is a remarkably generic movie. If Smith's plan was to fit in amongst the cogs of the Hollywood machine, he achieved his goal in spades, because other than a couple of Star Wars references, a line about ass-to-mouth, and the presence of actor Jason Lee, there's literally zero indication that he had anything to do with the movie. I know several film critics out there who think this kind of facelessness is the crime: why bother if it isn't going to show any directorial personality? I can already imagine the posts insisting that Cop Out lives up to its title. I see their point, but didn't these same haters expect Smith's attempt to branch out be a total embarrassment? Call me crazy, but I really don't think this qualifies.
Above all, though, there's the fact that, truth be told, audiences probably won't even notice. Again, Smith's territory is the net, and aside from a recent incident where he was unjustly ejected from an airplane, he's not exactly a household name (thanks to his insistence on skipping the "a film by" credit and references in the advertising). The preview audience I saw the movie with roared at most of the jokes, suggesting that the auto-pilot performances from Willis and Morgan (each doing their regular schtick) was really all they came to see. The script, by brothers Robb and Mark Cullen, not only brings nothing new to the table, but it also just isn't very funny. On the plus side, it gets from point A to point B without wasting too much time or unnecessarily complicating things, and ultimately, the interaction of the two leads (as well as Seann William Scott, as a talkative tweaker) is all that ends up registering. Even if we've seen it before, their performances were enough to lift it to reasonable levels of amusement.
All told, Cop Out is probably the most evenly successful 2010 film I've seen so far, but since it's only February, that's not saying much (and "evenly successful" doesn't mean "best" -- just that it opens with a certain level of success and doesn't blow it all on a crappy ending). Speaking as an admitted Smith fan, my opinion is that 99% of the film's problems don't have anything to do with his direction; he approached the project from a different angle, and despite shaky writing and blank-faced stars, he's succeeded at achieving his own modest goals. Again, maybe those goals are too modest. The general public won't even notice. In a backhanded, ironic way, Cop Out is a crowd-pleaser: whichever outcome you go in expecting, that's probably what you're going to get.
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