Tag Archives: End of Watch

Let’s Be Cops

Let’s Be Cops has Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. going for it, and nothing else.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

let's be copsStop me if you’ve heard this one before.  An American comedy film comes to you with a rock-solid and easily marketable premise.  It casts two leads who have excellent chemistry with one another and a natural ability to make great material outstanding and turgid material decent due to said aforementioned ability and chemistry.  The film then saddles them with not particularly funny material and expects them to carry the film based solely on their lightning chemistry and raw talent, and their sheer effort to make the material work does sometimes yield results but mostly just makes everyone involved come off as trying way too hard.  Finally, the final third eventually rolls around, upon which time the plot muscles its way in and the jokes dry up because nobody seems to know how to make plot funny despite that being one of the main ingredients of a comedy.  Oh, and it’s also way too long.  Like, way too long.  Like, wow.

It is an all-too familiar story and one that Let’s Be Cops slips into so comfortably one would be forgiven for thinking that everyone involved were trying to make a disappointingly mediocre-to-bad comedy.  The premise: two losers, named Justin and Ryan, hitting their 30s and stuck in a rut get dressed up as police officers for what they think is a fancy dress party, discover that they can pass off for actual police officers in public and, with nothing better going on in their lives, decide to see how far they can take the ruse.  The leads: Jake Johnson (as Ryan) and Damon Wayans, Jr. (as Justin), both having gotten their breaks on cult TV sitcoms (New Girl for Johnson, Happy Endings for Wayans), both now starring on the same show and both being tremendously talented performers with a tonne of comedic chemistry.  The jokes: rather thin on the ground, the film instead being content to just come up with scenarios to drop the actors in and see what funny may or may not happen.  The final third: unbelievably tonally ill-fitting, joke-free and just a badly made version of better films that do this stuff seriously for their entire run-time.  The run-time: just under an hour and fifty but feels well over the two hour mark even before the last third makes its unwelcome entrance.

Of course, Let’s Be Cops also has a black mark against it that can only come from inadvertent poor timing, so let’s address the elephant in the room.  Yes, in the wake of the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri this past month, where just some of the true extent of the abuse of force by police officers has come to horrifying light, a lot of Let’s Be Cops’ sillier moments become a little uncomfortable to sit through, in much the same way that the tragic massacre in Isla Vita back in May made A Million Ways To Die In The West’s narrative thread of “good guys deserve to get the girl” more than a little awkward.  Watching Justin and Ryan test how much they can get away with by playfully brandishing their unloaded guns in a crowded restaurant, recklessly driving on busy sidewalks and harassing pedestrians for the simple reason that they can, hews a little too close to our depressing reality to be able to register as genuinely funny; I found myself giving the kind of awkward uncomfortable chuckle that one may do after hearing a joke that you’ve found more offensive than funny.  If the film actually crafted full-on jokes instead of scenarios, if it went big and cartoony and exaggerated instead of staying rather close to reality, then this may not have been such a problem.  In fact, if you’re not even aware of Ferguson (and you really, really should be) or are able to distance yourself enough from current events to not be bothered by the parallels to real life, then it may not be a problem for you, but it was for me and it may be for other people.  Again, I realise that this can’t really be helped, but stuff like having Justin’s big videogame pitch be ridiculously similar to Battlefield Hardline really did strike a not-particularly-pleasant chord with me.

Oh, and whilst I’m on personal hang-ups that will not affect everyone, and probably surprising absolutely no-one at this point, I take issue with the portrayal of women in this film.  With the exception of Nina Dobrev, who plays the role of Token Love Interest in order to remind us all that Justin is straight no matter how close he may be Ryan (because god forbid an American comedy have the really close male leads just be gay lovers for once), every woman is somebody who wants to have sexual relations with Ryan and Justin or, at least, kiss them repeatedly on the lips purely because they’re cops.  The one exception is when the pair pay a visit to a domestic disturbance where they encounter a college student Ryan would like to have sex with and two angry, crazy and masculine-acting black women.  Look, you all may think that I am nit-picking here and that this is inconsequential overall, but Let’s Be Cops isn’t the only film to use women as simply window dressing for the men to leer at or have sex with.  This is the norm, especially in American comedies, and I am going to keep pointing this out until I start seeing more films, and more American comedies, that treat women as characters and people instead of just things for the male characters to have sex with or humourless straight men.  And seeing as Let’s Be Cops perfectly fits into that niche of embodying everything that’s wrong with American comedies nowadays, I am going to dock it points for this stuff because, in this case, it really does add up.

Anyway, let’s get to that final third because that’s where the film’s biggest problems lie.  See, as expected, up until that point, the film is happy enough to just drop the characters in silly situations and see what Johnson and Wayans, Jr. can come up with.  It’s light, it’s silly, it’s inconsequential and, obviously, it’s at its weakest when the plot and our villains for the film’s runtime show up and make things all serious and stuff.  As mandated in The Blueprint To Making An American Comedy Film, the last third consists of the plot and the villains turning up to be dealt with in a very serious and joke-free way.  The reason why this time it’s a huge issue instead of a depressingly familiar thing we just have to accept nowadays is because Let’s Be Cops’ final third switches from being a goofy buddy-(fake)-cop movie to, I kid you not here, an End Of Watch knock-off.  And a really, really bad one, too.  Action is shot and staged poorly, tension is non-existent, plot twists carry no weight because none of the characters are interesting or likeable, the drama falls flat because a film that was just twenty minutes ago showing us a scene where Justin crazily trips on crystal meth now wants to make you feel feelings that aren’t laughter-related and it’s as an abrupt a left-turn as that sounds.  I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised, its prior occasional dramatic thread (Ryan and Justin hitting 30 and realising that they haven’t really done anything with their lives) was executed a million times better in May’s Bad Neighbours, but it’s still unbelievably misguided.  And then it ends way, way, way too cleanly and happily, especially since the film spends a lot of its runtime stressing the consequences that their actions will have, only to have everything just sort of work itself out.

All this being said, Let’s Be Cops is not totally without merit.  It’s just that its merits are entirely related to Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. merely showing up.  Even when their characters are being unabashedly terrible people (another reason why the ending feels way too neat), the duo manage to keep them on the edge of likeability due to their natural charm, charisma and comedic chemistry.  Probably from that time they’ve been sharing on New Girl, they slip into a very comfortable rhythm, each clearly at ease with one another and knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  When laughs do come, and they do eventually come, mostly being sequestered to the film’s middle stretch, it’s pretty much down to them, much like how The Other Woman’s few laughs came from a fiercely-determined-to-make-this-crap-work Leslie Mann and Kate Upton.  They lock into a groove that sells mediocre material at a higher price than it deserves.  The inevitable sequence in which Ryan trades gay double entendre with a real cop actually becomes funny purely by Justin’s background reaction to the thing, an inevitable bit of sudden gross-out humour (this time involving a fat naked man) is saved because Damon Wayans, Jr. is one of the best in the business today at freak-out scenes, and Johnson and Wayans, Jr. get enough bicker-filled exchanges to remind me that I’d rather see them in a film with infinitely better material.

This one saddens me, folks.  I really like Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. and they deserve big things.  Big things that are better than this, at any rate.  I must admit that I did laugh at Let’s Be Cops, enough to feel like I hadn’t completely wasted nearly two hours, but it’s such a neat distillation of everything that is currently wrong with American comedies that the fact that I laughed doesn’t really amount to much in the grand scheme of things.  If we’re lucky, some enterprising young studio exec will snap up both Johnson and Wayans, Jr. for various buddy comedies for as long as this pairing are able to retain their lightning chemistry.  If we’re very lucky, Keegan-Michael Key will be brought back along for the ride, too.  And if we’re very, very lucky, they’ll all be given a script that’s a million times funnier and less problematic than the one for Let’s Be Cops.  It’s not the best comedy of the year so far, it’s not even the best cop-based comedy of the year (although, admittedly, both are one and the same).  It’s just an overlong and not very funny comedy that’s not worth your time.

Callum Petch is a naughty girl with a lovely smile.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Into The Storm

Into The Storm is a whole bunch of unbelievably dull sound and fury signifying nothing.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

into the storm 2Found footage requires suspension of disbelief.  It requires enormous suspension of disbelief.  It requires you to believe that cameras are nearly indestructible and have infinite battery lives, that the people holding them are both too stupid to stop filming and just run, have had no prior experiences with holding a camera before because nobody shakes a camera that damn much and are profoundly selfish people for continuing to record proceedings instead of helping other out, and that there is someone out there who felt the need to edit the traumatic experiences that a bunch of people went through and release the resulting borderline snuff-film to the general public.  Like I said, this requires an enormous suspension of disbelief and it’s why the best ones either keep the gimmick as minimalist as possible (see: The Blair Witch Project) or provide enough of an emotional connection to the characters and world being filmed that the bells and whistles don’t distract as much as they should (see: Earth To Echo).  Would some of these films be far better if they didn’t stick to their conceit?  Mostly, yeah, that’s why District 9 and End Of Watch eventually do just drop the found-footage angle.  It’s why Chronicle managed to engineer an in-story way to have its lead character be able to keep the camera steady and provide different angles and the like when filming.

I bring this up because Into The Storm has been hiding a key component of its DNA from its marketing, presumably because 2014 hasn’t been good for found-footage financially (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Devil’s Due, the aforementioned Earth To Echo unfortunately), and that is the fact that this is a found-footage disaster movie.  And not a simple one, either, where it’s just one guy with a camera.  This is a film with about 200 different cameras, most of them recording different things, several of them destroyed at some point, many by characters who never even cross paths, multiple times do camera-operators in the film stand around filming the leads trying to save somebody instead of helping, and yet it can’t even keep up its conceit the whole way through.  We are supposed to be watching a film, one made in-universe by somebody at some point, yet we keep getting shots and footage that make no sense in the found-footage conceit.  Lots of CG shots of destruction from far away, several from inside some of the tornadoes, some that manage to be totally still even whilst stuck in the path of a tornado.  It’s not like End Of Watch or District 9 or Chronicle where it’s obvious what’s found-footage and what isn’t or that you’re just viewing events through cameras in-universe instead of a constructed film, this is supposed to be a constructed film but it cheats frequently without being clear as to when it is doing so.

So, in the end, I spent a lot of the time sat there wondering how these shots were being constructed.  How is this fitting in the film’s universe?  All the found-footage ends up doing is being a major distraction, something that kept pulling me out of the movie constantly.  “But, Callum,” regular readers may be going, “Didn’t Earth To Echo have a similar kind of where-is-the-footage-coming-from-issue?  You gave that a pass, remember?”  That I did, because the found-footage conceit never got in the way of the tale, of the emotional centre, of the strong characters.  By contrast, Into The Storm has nothing.  Oh, sure, it has characters in the barest sense, in that they have names and characteristics and arcs, but they are all paper-thin and the film doesn’t really seem to care about their existence.  There’s our supposed lead, a high school vice principal (Richard Armitage) with two sons, one of whom is socially awkward (Max Deacon) and has a crush on a popular girl (Alycia Debnam-Carey), the other of whom is a bit of a douche (Nathan Kress) and both of whom resent him because he alternately forgets they exist or is all up in their respective grills.  There’s a team of storm chasers headed by a leader who is a dick who only cares about the footage until he doesn’t (Matt Walsh, for some reason), a storm expert who has been away from her daughter for too long (Sarah Wayne Callies), and two friends (Arlen Escarpeta and Jeremy Sumpter) one of which isn’t cut out for this line of work.  And there are also two redneck hillbilly stereotypes (Kyle Davis and Jon Reep) who want to be YouTube stars and are here for exactly the reasons you’re thinking of.

That is the extent of the film’s interest in its characters.  Everybody goes through all of their arcs, all of which you’ve seen done a million times before (the race against time to rescue the vice principal’s eldest son and the son’s crush will only seem fresh if you simply have managed to block The Day After Tomorrow from your memory for the last decade) and all performed by characters spouting exposition and their current thoughts and feelings at one another in an extremely clunky fashion, but there’s no interest in them.  It’s like the film resents having to spend time with these people.  I mean, I don’t blame them, especially since none of the actors even attempt to elevate this stuff.  Richard Armitage shouts gruffly, Sarah Wayne Callies looks and talks concerned, Matt Walsh acts like a dick until he doesn’t, Kyle Davis and Jon Reep play up their redneck hillbilly stereotypes to the point of insufferability, Nathan Kress acts like a douche.  They don’t even attempt to ham the thing up to enjoyable B-movie levels in order to make up for the lack of characters; everyone’s trying too hard, trying to be all serious serious.  Speaking of, sometimes the film briefly pretends like it wants to be a stark warning about climate change and you get one guess as to how well it pulls it off.

Instead, the film just wants to destroy stuff.  Which would be fine, I guess (forgive me for wanting a bit more out of my disaster movies), if the effects were good and if the whole enterprise weren’t so mind-numbingly boring.  The tornadoes look like a CGI cutscene in a PlayStation 3 game circa 2007, green-screening is prominent and very obvious, certain effects are of a much lower resolution and quality than the rest, that bit in the trailer with the planes and the airport is still laughably dreadful looking, and the inevitable moment where we go into the big monster tornado (which itself looks like Parallax from Warner Bros’ Green Lantern movie) looks as good as the bit in The Matrix Revolutions where Neo and Trinity try to burst through the real world’s sky.  It’s all so, so, so cheap, just barely above a Syfy Original Movie (don’t even get me started on how poor fire looks), which wouldn’t be such a problem if it had stuff going on that didn’t involve destroying stuff.  If the only thing you want to do is smash stuff real purdy-like, you need to come correct with excellent effects and, unfortunately for Into The Storm, every other Summer blockbuster so far this year soundly trashes it when it comes to destruction porn.

There is one part of the film’s marketing that was completely accurate, mind.  The ads made no secret of the fact that this was going to be a loud film.  And it is.  It is very loud, it is ridiculously loud; if I were in the screen next door, I guarantee that I would have heard it shake like an earthquake was about to go off.  Once a tornado hits, every speaker is filled with ear-rupturing booms, the score is drowned out by the chaos on screen, and the “LOUD NOISES” setting is held at a sustained peak for far longer than is tolerable.  The combination of the sheer volume of the film and the handheld nature of most of its shots worked to leave me exiting the cinema once the credits rolled with a splitting headache, a sensation that hasn’t happened to me since A Good Day To Die Hard last year.  One could claim that that meant the film had succeeded in its aim, that I had been taken into the proverbial storm, as it were, and that I should applaud the filmmakers in their achievements.  Bollocks to that, I would reply.  I was instead subjected to the 90 minute equivalent of being trapped on a non-stop tilt-a-whirl at the loudest and most obnoxious speed metal concert around, and that’s not particularly an experience I want out of my movies.

Plus, Into The Storm is just so unrelentingly boring.  There are no stakes because none of the characters have any depth or the attention of the film, there are no thrills because the effects stink, there’s no tension because the film goes so loud for so long that it numbs all of the senses, there’s no fun because the only comedy comes from outdated redneck hillbilly stereotypes who exist for exactly the reason you’re thinking of…  It’s just noise.  Seemingly endless noise.  It’s just sound and fury signifying nothing.  Folks, at time of writing, I am just about 24 hours removed from seeing this film and I remember nothing.  I mean, I remember the ways in which it doesn’t work, but I remember no specifics.  I don’t remember any character’s names, I don’t remember anything that was said, I don’t remember any particular scene, I don’t remember which two of the supposedly important cast actually dies, nothing.  Hell, by the time I’d made the hour’s drive back home after seeing it, I had basically forgotten about the whole thing by then.  The only things that proved that I had actually been to see Into The Storm were a lowered fuel gage on my car’s dashboard and a headache that had partially subsided on the drive back.

This one sucks, folks.  It sucks real bad.  Don’t give it the time of day.

Callum Petch missed his chance to find out that.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: 300 Rise of a Critic

Grand Budapest HotelThis week’s podcast introduces a young, fresh-faced critic to the mix in Callum Petch. Much like the plot of Wes Anderson’s new film The Grand Budapest Hotel, this episode sees a classy yet older gentleman (James) taking a young and enthusiastic outsider under his tutelage. At least that’s how James sees it.

We also have reviews of 300: Rise of an Empire and Escape from Planet Earth, as well as our plans for how to save the Die Hard franchise, and some bitter accusations of cheating in the quiz.

Join us next week for reviews of Need For Speed and The Zero Theorem.

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Failed Critics Review: End of Watch

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña in End of WatchThis week on the Failed Critics Review we look at the cop film that French Connection director William Friedken described as the “best movie about cops ever made”. Can James get over the found footage angle? Can Steve suggest a way he would have done it better? Can Gerry get around to seeing it? (No).

Also on this week’s podcast we look at James’ future wife Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone, and discuss films as varied as Network, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and The Devil’s Backbone.

Next week’s episode is the launch of the Failed Critics Hall of Fame, where we award some poor Oscar-less schmuck with some award I’ll try and rustle up on Photoshop.

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