POSTED ON MARCH 3, 2010:
Cop Out fails in new comedy, and The Crazies gain an advantage from its disappointment
Cuckoo. Citizens of a small town catch a water borne (or maybe it was an airborne) disease that begins to turn the people … crazy in The Crazies. How loony is that?
It's been said that horror done badly is comedy, and comedy done badly is horror. Case in point: Cop Out.
Long-time cops and partners Jimmy Monroe (Bruce Willis) and Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan) are suspended after they screw up a drug bust that another pair of cops had been working on for months.
Hodges is convinced his wife, Debbie (Rashida Jones) is cheating on him, while Monroe is trying to make up for his absenteeism as a father to his daughter, Ava (Michelle Trachtenberg). He plans to get the money to pay for her fairy tale wedding by selling an incredibly rare baseball card.
Monroe is about to sell the card to a dealer when the store is robbed by a pair of morons led by Dave (Sean William Scott), who is robbing stores of their baseball collectibles. In addition to the card, Dave also steals Hodges' favorite gun, which Monroe borrowed so he wouldn't have to admit to his ex-wife and her smarmy new husband, Roy (Jason Lee) that he got suspended without pay.
Dave sells the card and gun in exchange for drugs from Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz), a baseball obsessed dealer who is on the hunt for a missing car with -- what one assumes is -- a package in the trunk. When Monroe catches up with Po Boy, he strikes a deal for his baseball card in exchange for Monroe finding the missing car.
There's also something about Hodges' gun being used in some gang hits, and Hodges sticking a video camera in a teddy bear to tape his wife's possible infidelities. But none of that really matters because by then I was punch-drunk from the sheer torture of watching two people trying desperately to generate laughs and failing. After a while, I just went limp.
I want to avoid hyperbole, but this movie is so horribly inept on just about every imaginable level that it flat out made me angry.
As an '80s action/buddy cop/comedy homage that it's meant to be, it is amazingly tepid and action-free for the most part. An early car chase through a park has all the sense of speed of watching a riding mower race. As a comedy, it's about as funny as watching a blind kitten die of loneliness.
Directed by Kevin Smith from a script by Rob and Mark Cullen, it is Smith's feet that I wish to hold to the fire most.
Having been a fan, more or less, of his work I would have expected the guy who made Clerks and Chasing Amy to have an eye for a good comedy script. One of his strongest cards as a filmmaker is his writing -- you could definitely argue his worth as a director -- and his sense of comic timing and talent for writing snappy, funny dialogue should have kicked in when he read this dull, derivative, cruelly unfunny piece.
He should have either passed on it or re-written it to give it a chance at not being a war crime on film. It's confounding that a generally funny guy who makes generally funny movies could have mistimed his comic beats so badly.
But that's really not the worst of what Smith does here, since his talents as a visual stylist seem to have gone from inept to non-existent. He's always been guilty of flat compositions and unimaginative set design, but in Cop Out it looks as though he has no idea of how to shoot a movie -- at all.
He indulges some clumsy The Shield-esque camera zooms and staggered pans during the opening interrogation scene, which he quickly drops and never revisits and instead reverts to his trademark flatness. When he's called upon to do action, the look devolves from there, such as the aforementioned car chase or the fight scenes, which are badly blocked and spatially unconnected (and not kinetic). The editing sucks. That's a technical term.
Sure, I almost hated The Lovely Bones as much as I hate this but at least that looked good.
But that's not really the worst of what Smith does here. I always knew I liked Tracy Morgan best in small doses, on 30 Rock or in TV appearances, because he sometimes captures a demented hilarity for a few moments. Tracy Morgan for 107 minutes is easily the worst thing Smith does here, though he rubs salt in the wound with the addition of Sean William Scott, who is vying for the position of which character was so molar-grindingly annoying I wanted them to die first. Words actually fail me.
Willis spends the entire movie literally looking annoyed by it all. I heard stories that Tracy Morgan and he didn't get along well, and it's pretty plain that was the case.
Although they are supposed to be best friends (and accepting the fact that Morgan's character is kind of an idiot to begin with) Willis still can't hide that undertone of annoyance in his performance. Not that I blame him.
From what I can tell, Morgan pretty much acts like himself in roles, so when the camera stops, there's no character for him to shed, which must mean he's like that all of the time. Ten hours a day on set for a month with that would have had me downing Percocet with corn whiskey.
Literally, the only cool thing about Cop Out was the score by Harold Faltermeyer, the '80s synthesizer vet who gave us the soundtracks for Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun and Fletch; films that all deserve to be watched instead of this brutal 12-rounds of soul pummeling crap.
Cop Out will be the bar by which I consider how bad a movie is until I see something worse. That might take awhile.
Not So Crazy
After the trauma of Cop Out, any movie I saw next was bound to seem like a masterwork. So, I think The Crazies probably benefitted from my case of Battered Reviewer Syndrome, which might have made this middling entry into the survival horror genre feel more enjoyable than it really is.
A remake of the also middling 1973 George Romero film, The Crazies finds us in the small Iowa town of Ogden Marsh. It's as pastoral a place as you'd expect, populated by farming families and protected by Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and his deputy Russell (Joe Anderson). Dutton's wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) is the town M.D., who is pregnant with their first child.
One morning, one of the respectable townsfolk strolls onto the field of an in-progress baseball game with a shot gun. Dutton confronts him, but the guy just blankly stares until he tries to shoot Dutton and Dutton is forced to kill him.
Suddenly, more of the townspeople start to get that distracted look quickly followed by murderous intent. Dutton begins to put the clues together that lead him to a crashed military plane out in the marsh, and the idea that maybe the sudden uptick in the homicide rate has something to do with the water supply.
Soon enough, the military seals off the town as they begin to try and sort out the infected from the uninfected. Apparently, an elevated temperature is a sign of the sickness, and Judy is separated from David after her pregnancy-fueled, above-normal temperature convinces the army doctors she's among the ill.
Of course, David has to get her back.
Directed by Breck Eisner (who previously failed to impress with Sahara) from a script by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright, The Crazies' main problem is the gaping holes in its script. It bends what few rules it establishes in order to keep the story moving -- logic be damned.
Like when David realizes he needs to get back to town to save his wife. First, he's at a packed military weigh station miles from town, and in the very next scene he's in his own office. No explanation of how he sidestepped the patrols, cleared the road blocks, nothing.
Plus, the rules for the disease seem to change depending on the demands of the plot. First, it's a water borne illness, but then it might be airborne. Some of the infected just kind of go blank and begin to methodically start killing, while others seem to succumb more slowly and keep their personalities. It just didn't make sense.
At one point, an expository scene informs us that the incubation period is 48 hours, but then one of the characters becomes infected after that time limit.
Even more confounding, they keep noting how the military can track everyone on the roads and then spend most of the movie ... walking down the middle of them in broad daylight. It was almost as if the screen writers didn't know how to write their way out of situations that would have ended their movie, so they just ignored them.
But there were a few good moments of tension, and Eisner directs capably enough to keep the story moving -- blowing past the holes in common sense. It relies too heavily on jump scares and bombastic sound design to amp up the tension, but at least Eisner doesn't let you get bored.
The Crazies is a good looking film, too, with cinematographer Maxime Alexandre's moody lighting going a long way in adding to the foreboding atmosphere. Her compositions also add to the tension of a script that mostly lacked it, due to predictability.
The cast is OK. Olyphant registers, but he really doesn't have much range. Mitchell is given little to work with and doesn't run with it, except in the most literal sense of running a lot. Joe Anderson as the sheriff's deputy was probably the most compelling of the three, though his character is a prime example of why the rules of the infection make no sense.
The Crazies is nothing to write home about, but hey ... at least it's no Cop Out.
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