Let’s go ahead and address the elephant in the room. Luke Greenfield’s Let’s Be Cops has been finished for a while now, having landed its MPAA rating months ago and been the subject of an aggressive, summerlong screening campaign that managed to shun press altogether. Alas, this bid for the same back-to-school, box-office earnings as recent R-rated hits like We’re the Millers, Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder means that a film about the willful abuse of authority was hitting theatres last weekend, just as last week’s Ferguson, Mo., shitshow was capturing the nation’s attention.
Alas, Let’s Be Cops is neither an incisive exploration of all-American societal dynamics, nor a proud display of hotheaded, trigger-happy alpha maledom. It’s a simpler, more disposable item, a fitfully funny buddy vehicle for two New Girl stars in the vein of 1986’s Armed and Dangerous. Johnson and Wayans Jr. play Ryan and Justin, a pair of listless thirtysomething Angelenos who discover that their police-officer party costumes pass them off as the real thing in public.
Episodic hijinks ensue, with unemployed actor Ryan fully committing to their new illegal, immoral venture while Justin sees it as an excuse to finally level with both his boss (Lajoie) and his crush (Dobrev). It should surprise no one to hear that these two wind up in over their heads with local thugs and corrupt cops alike; just in the past year, The Heat and Ride Along followed almost identical formula beats in their pursuit of laughs. (Then again, neither farce could claim a secret weapon like Keegan-Michael Key, playing a brazen informant here.)
The shaggy rhythms and creaky plotting pale all the more when compared to the cheeky antics of Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz or Lord and Miller’s Jump Street films, but the viable chemistry between these two leads keeps the ball in the air, even when the balls land elsewhere in strained homophobic gags. What’s more, Rob Riggle arrives to provide a welcome moral compass as the real cop catching on to their shenanigans. Give it a year or so, and Let’s Be Cops should prove to be ideal catch-it-on-cable fare, assuming, of course, that one might feel more compelled to turn off the news by then.