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Cop Out

In addition to his current job as the plus-size thorn Southwest Airlines' side, Kevin Smith also happens to be a filmmaker, albeit one of steadily diminishing relevance. After earning widespread acclaim with his 1994 debut, the d.i.y. comedy hit Clerks, Smith followed up with two solid efforts, Mallrats and Chasing Amy, before beginning a slow, sustained descent into the crowded ranks of Hollywood hackdom. And yet, somehow, he still managed to corral the likes of Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan to star in his latest film, Cop Out, an inane, infantile buddy comedy that might very well represent his creative low-point.

Sample any of Smith's countless anti-Southwest screeds and you'll doubtlessly discover material more interesting than anything found in Cop Out. It's a pity that Smith, directing for the first time with someone else's script, couldn't have harnessed all that creative fervor and vitriolic wit to punch up Robb and Mark Cullen's lifeless screenplay, which pits Willis and Morgan as a mismatched detective duo on the trail of a stolen baseball card. Or he might have focused that energy on polishing the film's sloppy aesthetic, which looks as if it was pieced together with scissors and scotch tape, then soaked in bongwater.

Funnyman Morgan seems tailor-made for Smith's R-rated environment, with its juvenile array of dick jokes and scat gags, but without the wit — and restraint — of 30 Rock's writing staff, his dimwitted schtick becomes paper-cut irritating. Except, apparently, to Smith, who can't bring himself to yell "cut" until each aimless riff has thoroughly exhausted itself. Overplaying every mannerism, every gesture, every reaction in order to squeeze a few laughs from Cop Out's barren material, he can barely elicit a forced smile from lethargic straight man Willis, who seems to be just marking time until production starts on the next Die Hard flick. The awkwardness of their forced rapport is intermittently relieved by a third party, Seann William Scott, whose needling, childish petty thief is Cop Out's best comedic asset. Fittingly, he abruptly disappears in the second act.

Most perplexing about Cop Out (aside from the baffling fact of its existence) is that it isn't fashioned as a parody, but rather a loose homage. Smith's copious nods to iconic '80s buddy cop flicks, right down to the synth-pop score from Beverly Hills Cop composer Harold Faltermeyer, are all made with a straight face. He isn't trying to make fun of 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon; he's trying to make 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon. With dick jokes. rated this film 1/2 star.