Two Titles: “Let’s Be Cops” and “What If”

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Every once in a while, my boyfriend and I find ourselves together on a do-nothing day. Rain or shine, a good way to kill it is to go see a movie, and if we’re lucky, there will be a couple of films out that we are interested in. And if we are extra lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it), there isn’t anything else cheaper or more interesting going on.

This time, we saw Let’s Be Cops and What If (or, if it pleases you, The F Word), totally expecting to hate the former and at the very least like the latter. After all, Daniel Radcliffe is awesome, and he’s in an indie-esque romcom. I wanted to see if I could see him as anyone besides Harry Potter (an issue which, for the record, I didn’t face with Emma Watson post Hermione).

For Let’s Be Cops, I was expecting a spiritual sister of Identity Thief, a film which I viscerally detest with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns (see my list of most loathed romcom clichés and a potential future rant).

Surprisingly, I find more to talk about in Let’s Be Cops, and I’ll explain why.

The Plot(s)

As usual, spoilers ahoy.

Let’s Be Cops is a movie about two best friends (a self-identified loser and a barely self-aware, out-of-touch-with-reality loser) who are down on their luck and unsatisfied with their lots in life.

Their solution: “Let’s be cops!”

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…Okay, okay. This idea didn’t come from nowhere. Loser # 1 above (named Justin, though I forgot both characters names until the last third of the film) tries to pitch a video game idea about being a police officer to his jerky boss, who ignores him because Justin is a meek pushover and doesn’t sell the danger, realism, or fun of the game he wants to make.

His friend Ryan, or Loser #2, is an old, washed up football player who injured himself not in a game, but due to his own stupidity at a party. He is man-childish, and (in my personal opinion) an unlikeable, morally reprehensible idiot.

The two friends made a pact that if they hadn’t “made it big” by the time they hit 30, they’d leave big city LA and go back to small-town Ohio.

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Somehow, Justin managed to get real police uniforms and badges for his pitch, and upon confusing a masquerade party for a goofy, Halloween costume party, the two don the uniforms, show up, are sometimes regarded as real cops or their usual washout selves (very inconsistently, I’d like to add), leave dejected, and slowly discover on the street heading home that their “costumes” give them power and attention from chicks (with much contrivance and ham-fistedness).

Thus the solution: “Let’s be cops!”

“Hilarity” ensues in very over-the-top, The Hangover-esque, “haha boobs and farts” ways, while suspension of disbelief is chucked out the window right at the get-go. Then, later, there is a jarring shift in focus to realism; what police officers actually do and face on a frequent basis, and the broken glamour for the “protagonists,” who “grow” accordingly.

If you detect massive amounts of sarcasm in the above passage, don’t adjust your screen. You are correct.

Now for What If (with considerably fewer spoilers):

Daniel Radcliffe plays Wallace, a disenchanted med school drop out who is hung up on the abrupt and painful ending of his last relationship. He lives in the attic of his single-mom sister’s house, has a few good but oddball friends, and one night, he meets a girl named Chantry at a party he gets dragged along to by his friend Allan.

Chantry is Allan’s cousin, and works as an animator with great potential for growth. The two forge an immediate bond and become the best of friends, despite their individual hang-ups and Chantry’s already “in a relationship” status. As time goes on, Wallace feels more and more attraction to her, and suspects that she feels the same.

This really is a movie you should see to know the rest. It deals with love, friendship, unfaithfulness, and the trials of life and relationships.

Impressions, Opinions, and Conundrums

Let me start here with What If, as it is shorter and easier to pinpoint what I like and don’t like about it.

THE F WORD

The movie is very quirky and heartfelt; human. It’s not perfect (as a romcom or general story), but the people and their reactions to situations feel real. There are the dreaded “third act misunderstandings” that occur, and yes, if the characters sat down and talked them out calmly, they probably wouldn’t have happened. But at the same time, I could understand where characters were coming from, based on their present feelings and past situations. The conflicts felt more justified, and (spoiler here) the film did a great job of not putting Wallace or Chantry unfairly or overly “in the wrong.” After all, they got where they were as friends, as well as individuals, and what a lot of movies (and people) don’t seem to get is that misunderstandings are a two-way street. Wallace and Chantry do attempt to talk things out, even if it doesn’t go as smoothly as hoped.

Even when I disagreed with one character’s response to situations, I still found them understandable, if not decently relatable. For once, I wasn’t distracted or caught up by how stupid a situation or the characters were.

My only real complaint is that the main friends of Wallace and Chantry overstep their boundaries at one point later in the film, with no real impetus to do so, and seemed to think it would go well. But they were shown to be regretful for what they had caused and, while looking more flawed than before, were still funny and relatively likable.

THE F WORD

The characters are all flawed in various ways, but they feel like real people I would know. Weird, but nice, quirky, and dependable. Their small talk is goofy and awkward and even downright gross at times, but that never bothered me (again, I know a bunch of weird people).

The friendship and subsequent romance progressed well, torturing the characters appropriately while giving believable reasons as to why they wouldn’t just come out and shout their feelings on the rooftops. The comedy was very spot on. I also like that though the characters have opportunities to “cheat,” the writers didn’t make them just give in. Even when they came close to, say, kissing, Wallace and Chantry were clearly thinking about things and holding back.

It’s good to see passion doesn’t always make people act like they have brain-damage.

I like that the boyfriend/other man in this scenario, Ben, is not a jerk or conveniently dumpable third point of the love triangle (a la several Meg Ryan movies). Also, Daniel Radcliffe does a great job. I’m sad to say that his voice and accent made me kind of squint to see his new character at first, rather than Harry, but after a while, it felt more natural and different. And my boyfriend wasn’t distracted at all, so there’s that. I’m a weirdo, perhaps like those friends I mention 🙂

But yes, I like this movie a lot. It’s well acted, well written, and well shot. Everyone has believable chemistry. That’s about as thorough as I can get without spoiling major things. It’s not the industry-changing sort of good, but it does feel quite a bit smarter and less scripted than most romcom faire. Definitely worth a watch.

Now Let’s Be Cops, on the other hand…I’d recommend you go see it, but for a totally different reason.

Holy hell, what a train wreck.

This is a bad comedy. Not a “so bad it’s good” comedy, not black comedy, and certainly not “anti-humor” comedy. It almost makes you feel bad, because it’s clearly trying its damnedest and failing. Like a class clown that’s taken too many footballs to the head.

Precisely one joke made me laugh, and after the movie was over, I couldn’t remember for the life of me what it was. I think it was semi-subtle and had to do with tone, but that’s all. The rest of the jokes mainly fell into two categories: voluptuous women throwing themselves at men,

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and dumb and abusive displays of power,

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both usually for no real reason at all. Also, obligatory male nakedness.

Funny, if you’re a guy under the age of twelve, maybe.

It’s almost fascinating in how much this movie utterly fails. Fails at comedy, fails at realism, and even fails at the basics of good storytelling. I felt every agonizing minute of this damn thing; only getting invested (and cheering a bit) when the main characters were getting shot at.

If I’d had a watch, I’d have checked it. Repeatedly.

But how insulting and offensive is this thing, really?

Here’s the thing: bad people can be funny. They can also be relatable or likable, if done correctly. The keys to black comedy (or portraying morally grey characters, more specifically), for me, are: how are the characters’ personalities and actions framed, and do they receive sufficient rewards or consequences?

Those are the big issues I take with Identity Thief, which, again, I will elaborate on in the future.

You could make a story about impersonating a police officer funny; maybe even awesomely funny, if it was a short scene or well-written subplot. I’m not sure it could support a full movie in the first place, but we already have buddy cop movies for most comedic possibilities, and risks must be taken sometimes to give us stuff that’s new and interesting.

If not for the last third of the movie, I would be insulted by the over-glamourization of police life and the sheer ignorance of the struggles they face everyday trying to protect people, hyped up on display. Especially when both losers (Ryan in particular) are frequently more despicable than likable. Though Let’s Be Cops doesn’t really frame Ryan or Justin as being in the right, it does emphasize that they have fun, and don’t get caught, at the expense of others. And they clearly don’t think much about what they’re doing.

If not for the later thirds, I’d argue that Ryan, at least, has borderline psychopathy.

But then the movie goes from being stupid and padded to showing more realistic things, like a brief scene of policemen doing paperwork and more scenes of them and the losers getting shot at.

…Huh?

Even if the film is trying to go for some kind of message or big lesson the characters learn in the end, it’s jarring and makes no sense with how little suspension of disbelief is left intact by that point.

Let’s take account of a few things here:

Okay, so they show some cops filling out paperwork and talking about it, but when the characters check out a bunch of equipment to monitor a crime lord (which they don’t have a warrant for, so their evidence should be disregarded), how the hell did they get the numbers to clear that stuff?

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That’d be a lot of forms with information they cannot possibly have or pull out of their asses, to take home that high-tech gear.

For that matter, how did they get real uniforms? How did two cops pulling guns (real or not) out at each other in a restaurant not warrant a report?

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Some people did scream and duck, but afterwards just said, “Well, okay. It’s just cops business, I guess.”

How about when they told people on the sidewalk to freeze without any warrant? How were they driving around in a police car they got online with weird plates and never got noticed (except one point for contrivance alone)? How Ryan could drive on sidewalks or through a football field and never get noticed by or reported to a real officer?

The writers only did half of their damn research.

My biggest question comes halfway through the film, when Justin googles “impersonating an officer” and the subsequent punishments…

…Good on them for figuring that out, I guess, presumably weeks after they’ve been faffing about outside of work in police uniforms. But seriously, they only thought to look this up now? Justin, in particular, who is portrayed as the meek, semi-intelligent, goody-two-shoes of the two, who was apprehensive from the start, is just now looking up what he’s in for?

I don’t buy any of it! Not a single bit! And that might have been okay IF IT WAS FUNNY!

There is a “third act misunderstanding/liar revealed” in this story too (with Justin’s love interest), but it’s glossed over so quickly that I was kind of grateful.

But then!

Even after the boys end up in big trouble – get shot at, kidnapped, revealed to their new police friend as phonies, and somehow make it out alive – the movie barely treats them like they’ve learned anything at all. Sure, Ryan decides to go to the police academy and get a real, legit badge this time, but the ending scene of the movie pointlessly shows him still driving on sidewalks, abusing his power and being a jerk, all for a complete non-joke. So much for “growing up.”

To me, it looks more like he’s getting away with murder.

Justin learns to stand up for himself and be a man. He gets his game put into production and takes charge at his office. He also apologizes to his love interest, and is taken back so quickly that it made my stomach churn.

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I could understand her willing to slowly forgive him and have them start over as friends, completely honestly, but no. She takes him back, both rewarding his lying ways and becoming his end of the movie prize.

Lovely.

And of course, neither of them go to jail. Why? Because they backed up real cop guy in the final showdown.

I’d have liked it better if after the guy told them to leave (and told them badges and uniforms are something they have to earn! Right on!), they took off their fake uniforms and backed him up anyway. A sort of civilian justice coming to help out the force. Nope! By refusing to drop their uniforms (their act, if you think of it metaphorically), even in the midst of great danger to all of these people, they dishonor the uniforms they did not earn even more.

The movie tries to make it seem like they grew and learned, but it was barely there. They sacrificed the message for bad, unfunny jokes that actually detracted from the characters. It was such colossal fail that, even though I know I’m giving this film more thought and credit than it probably deserves, I’m just continually baffled by its confused, mis-matched ambitions and the sheer effort of its laziness.

It’s not like Identity Thief, and I didn’t hate it as much as that film. I’m not quite sure how angry I should be, because I’m too busy wondering what the hell I just watched.

Final Thoughts

As I write this, Let’s Be Cops has an 18% score on  Rotten Tomatoes, and it has made over $30,000,000 at the box offices, easily making up for its budget of $17,000,000. What If has a 70% score and a box office of over $2,000,000 (with a budget I couldn’t find record of). To be fair, Rotten Tomatoes is not the best or even the final word on a film’s standing in the critical or general audience communities.

Let’s Be Cops is a mess, which might actually elevate it a bit above your typical “low-hanging fruit” comedy flick. It clearly had some ambitions and good intentions, but came up with a botched delivery, revealing little understanding of what it wanted to say. What If is more emotionally intelligent and complex, but with the seemingly lower ambitions of trying to tell “just another love story.” Obviously, a lot of people went to go see both movies, whether they ultimately did or didn’t like them. But Let’s Be Cops has garnered a strong response (in box office and general bile from critics).

That’s why I ponder: what does it say about our current cultural climate, that we keep getting and going to movies like this, despite overwhelmingly negative critical bashing?

My only conclusion is that The Hangover style of humor, however well it’s executed, is incredibly easy to duplicate. It’s probably not going away any time soon.

*All images to their respective owners. None of these shots or images belong to me. 

 

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