Tag Archives: The Other Woman

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)!

The Other Woman

The Other WomanIts cast is game and clearly trying, but the laughs in The Other Woman are still too infrequent.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

When you are making a comedy, you typically need two things in order to make it work.  One is a funny script stuffed to the brim with jokes, the other is a cast willing to go the extra mile to make that material work.  With a funny script but bored or non-committed actors, you have at best good material landing with much less of an impact than it could have and at worst material with bags of potential being wasted due to the atrocious delivery, timing and all that other good stuff by the actors.  With committed actors but a dross script, your talented cast can come off as trying-too-hard or your script just looking even worse than it would have if bored actors were sleepwalking their way through it.  That’s not all you need for a good comedy, of course, but if you have those two elements, the rest basically falls into place and it takes something special to screw up the results.

The Other Woman has one of those two components and, if the headline hasn’t already given it away, it’s the game cast.  Pretty much everyone who is involved with this film is trying desperately hard above all hope to make this film work and make funny from a script that has little funny; most of them are really good at that trying, too.  Unfortunately, despite their very best efforts, they still can’t generate enough laughs to fill the giant voids in the script where there should be more, and there are a lot of those giant voids.

Revolving around three women all being two-timed in some way, shape or form by the charmingly despicable asshat known as Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau); Leslie Mann plays his unaware wife Kate, Cameron Diaz plays his unaware lawyer mistress Carly and Kate Upton plays his unaware youthful mistress Amber.  The three are thrown together when they each become aware that Mark is playing the lot of them and, because this is a comedy and not a melodrama, they plot to make his life a miserable sack of crap as revenge for how they treated him.  It takes a while to get there, though, I don’t think Amber even enters the film throughout the entire first hour, as the film’s true focus mostly seems to be on the burgeoning friendship between Kate and Carly with Kate freaking out over the collapse of her marriage and Carly finally earning some friends for once in her life.

That’s all fine, the film regularly lampshades how weird it is that the two of them do end up being friends (predominately by having people in the film call out how strange it is) and you know how I feel about strong character work.  It does come with the drawback, however, that the film ends up spending a lot of that pre-Amber time spinning its wheels, hitting the same points over and over again.  Kate will have a freak-out or attempt to contact Carly or both, Carly will show up and roll her eyes and be kinda bitchy as she tries to prove herself above the situation (Diaz is not so much the Straight Man as she is more the Unlikable Alpha Bitch for a lot of the run-time, the script making her come off too mean to be fully likable for at least 70 of this film’s 109 minutes), then the pair will bond regardless and it’s off to the next scene to do it all again.

This stuck-in-a-rut narrative structure wouldn’t be such an issue if the jokes in the script were anything approaching funny.  When Kate comes over to Carly’s apartment, she brings her untrained Dalmatian with her for some such gut-busters like… it sitting on Carly’s sofa when she’d told it not to, it licking Kate’s face after she and Carly had subjected themselves to a night of heavy drinking, and it taking a dump on the floor because animals pooing in front of the camera is… is just… oh, hold my aching sides, please.  There’s also a section where the duo are tailing Mark on his way to meeting, what turns out to be, Amber and the Mission: Impossible theme plays and you’re supposed to laugh because it’s the Mission: Impossible theme and that is a thing you recognise.  Nicki Minaj shows up, and drops out as the script demands, as Carly’s useless bitchy receptionist whose first response to finding out from Carly that Mark has a wife is to go “And you don’t think you can take her?” because it’s Nicki Minaj acting and isn’t that a novelty?

Things honestly don’t get much better script-wise when Amber enters the picture.  There’s an extended (and I mean extended) sequence where Mark is on the receiving end of industrial strength laxatives and fart noises you get from one of those royalty-free sound effect CDs that litter college AV rooms proceed to bombard the soundtrack, Mark is fed hormones meant for pre-op transsexuals and gets freakish looking nipples, and there’s a short situation whose entire punchline revolves around the preconception that transsexuals and cross-dressers are inherently gross and funny.  WACKA-WACKA-WACKA!!  There are few particularly funny lines thrown about, most of the big scenes run on for way too long and it’s all weirdly paced.  Nothing ever really seems to be properly building to anything, it all just kind of meanders, which is likely down to director Nick Cassavetes (previous of the rather good Alpha Dog, the rather not The Notebook and the really rather not My Sister’s Keeper) who, incidentally, is also utterly incompetent at filming and staging physical comedy.  I love physical comedy, I adore a good piece of physical comedy, but Cassavetes always picks the wrong camera angle, or paces it wrong, or stages things in such a way that a fall through garden-based scaffolding feels like a brick of cement was thrown through it instead of the character we’re supposed to be watching.  He just plain sucks at it.

Going back to the script, though, because the script is the main problem here, what on earth was going on with the final 15 or so minutes?  I’m pretty sure I broke my neck on the severity of the various mood whiplashes as we go from wacky comedy to dead serious drama and back again in seconds flat frequently throughout.  And you know when the drama is supposed to be going on because mournful piano/inspirational Top 40 hit is cued up on the soundtrack, soft focus is busted out and characters start exchanging long, mournful looks at stuff that probably means something to you if you’re the kind of person who watches these kinds of sequences and goes “THIS SPEAKS TO ME” but just comes off as jarring and out of nowhere.  The Other Woman spends most of its run-time mining Kate’s reaction to her marriage falling apart for laughs and then suddenly, for about 5 minutes, it wants to mine it for drama by pulling out the oldest and most clichéd trick in the book?  Nope, I’m not biting.

The film even manages to mess up its ending!  You know the scene where the women reveal themselves to the man and he breaks down in pure anger at how they managed to play him and ruin his life and it’s immensely satisfying to see this dickhead get his comeuppance?  Yeah, they screwed that up!  It’s literally the easiest thing in the world, if you’re halfway competent at your job, and they still screwed it up!  How?  Well, do you know why everything that happened to Dabney Coleman in 9 To 5 remained funny even though he was basically kidnapped and tortured for a much longer time than one can deem as redeemable?  Besides the fact that he remains a horrible misogynistic prick right up to the end?  Because no blood is ever spilt.  It lends proceedings a cartoony feel, an air of unrealness, that all of this behaviour is fine because no-one’s getting hurt so you can cheer on proceedings without ever having second thoughts, feeling guilty or expressing sympathy for the man.

Except that blood is suddenly spilt in the finale and it suddenly becomes harder to laugh at and cheer along with the breakdown.  It injects a shot of reality that makes proceedings unpleasant even though the guy having karma collapse on top of him is a huge twat who deserves bad things.  The physical comedy that causes the blood is still silly and over-the-top, to such an extent that if the blood wasn’t there it would probably still be OK.  But the blood is there and it adds a sudden shot of extreme meanness that, for me at least, pulled me out of that satisfied feeling the finale should have carried.  It’s jarring, primarily because blood never appeared anywhere else and it was too much of a shock for it to be in the finale.

In all fairness, there are some laughs here but they are mostly due to the cast of leads attempting to elevate poor material.  To some extent, they do succeed.  Although the actual scene of him on the toilet never ends up being funny, the whole bit is almost redeemed by a short scene at the end of it where Mark comes home and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau near-flawlessly delivers his explanation to Kate of why he’s turned up home in jeans that aren’t his, aren’t his size and why he’s about to “go see if the toilet can take a punch”.  Cameron Diaz is probably the weakest of the bunch, but it’s entirely down to the script that, again, paints her as Alpha Bitch for a lot of its run-time and then shoves her into a romance subplot with a guy who often looks like a douchier Wil Wheaton in order to pad out the runtime.  When the film lets her cut a bit loose, she does good work especially with her chemistry with…

…the film’s best asset, Leslie Mann.  If you do laugh at this film, I guarantee that 70% of the time it’ll be down to her.  She uses her natural charisma and peppy “I’m glad to be here and I will do everything to in my power to make whatever you hand me funny” attitude to great effect, saving over-long stretches or just plain willing material into being at the very least chucklesome.  A bit where she’s caught with Carly trying to break into an exclusive club really shouldn’t be funny at all, let alone the near minute and a half it runs for, but she manages to at least make the joke funny for some of that time by virtue of committing fully to the bit.  There’s a section where she and Carly are bitchily sniping at Amber from afar when they discover she’s another one of Mark’s mistresses in a scene that is so natural and free-flowing, and contains most of the film’s few legitimate funny lines, I can only assume it spun into improv.  And when the film finally allows Kate the chance to get her own back on Mark, Mann is there relishing every last second.  She is also a master at hysterical crying which is something her character has to do a lot and, credit is absolutely down to Mann here, it never gets old, producing most of the few legitimate laughs I had at the whole film.

I can’t wrap this review up, though, without mentioning Kate Upton and how surprisingly great she is here.  She may flub some line readings, but she’s got natural comic timing and is seemingly very excited to be here.  She plays her character as incredibly earnest where the script just wants to write her as Dumb Blonde and it’s the absolute best thing she could have done because it changes her character into somebody more entertaining than it would have been.  There’s a bit where the trio are brainstorming ways to hurt Mark and she suggests kicking him in the balls.  It’s not laugh out loud funny, but the pure non-cynical “girls, I suddenly have a great idea” nature of her delivery, and her puppy-dog facial expressions when Carly is gently shooting that idea down, at least gave me a good chuckle which is preferable to the total non-reaction I would have gotten otherwise.  It’s kind of a shame the film doesn’t use her more, because Upton is genuinely operating on a level not too far removed from the excellent Mann.  More roles like this for her, if she’s going to keep acting, please!

Lest you think I’m getting too soft or am about to do an about-face and let off The Other Woman, though, I should stress that my actual laughs were very, very few and far between.  Again, despite the cast’s absolute best efforts, this is garbage material at play and it can only be elevated so high.  I did smirk a fair bit, giggle a little bit often and, yes, openly laughed every now and again, but there were still too many stretches, too many unintentional stretches, where I was either rolling my eyes or sighing in disgust at yet another tired or unfunny gag or just plain not reacting at all, and those stretches are long.  Couple that with the weird tonal fluctuations and the botching of its ending and I cannot recommend The Other Woman overall.  It’s better than it could have been, looked and I thought it was going to be, but its capable cast only managed to take a dreadful looking comedy and turn it into a disappointingly bad one and that’s a damn shame.

Callum Petch is a little too young with not enough time.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!