Our Nathan Rabin wasn’t too fond of the new comedy Let’s Be Cops, but many Dissolve readers took their disgust with the film even further than Nathan, expressing some outrage at the very premise of the film—saying that with all the stories in the news lately about police forces abusing their power, a silly comedy about a couple of slackers pretending to be patrolmen is borderline irresponsible. Here’s a sampling of some of the comments, which also includes a little pushback:
jbohle: “Every time I saw the trailer for this I couldn’t get over how icky it made me feel. Even with the random insert of Wayans, Jr. going, ‘We could go to jail for a long time for this,’ it’s still portraying these two guys as badass muthafuckahs for fooling people with fake cop uniforms they bought online. The bit of them pulling their guns on each other in the restaurant and freaking people out, then laughing, is like something the creepy henchmen would do in a cheap action-thriller.”
menocu: “Is there a hilarious bit in this where their outfits let them get away with murdering an unarmed teenager?”
Conor Malcolm Crockford: “Considering the recent spate of murders of unarmed black men by cops and the autistic kid in high school duped into buying pot by a piece of shit cop posing undercover, cop comedies are making me feel really, really queasy.”
Fluka: “That said, I watched Hot Fuzz last weekend, and that still somehow manages to be completely hilarious. Maybe because the premise is utter fantasy, removed from the current real life situation—the villains are prosperous British white people obsessed with militant conformity—or maybe because it’s harkening back to an earlier period of scrappy action film fantasies, prior to the rise of the current police industrial complex. Or maybe simply because I am a terrible person who has managed to hypocritically insulate herself from the horrible events happening in the world around her.”
Charlie: “Calm down, liking Hot Fuzz doesn’t make you some big head-in-the-sand hypocrite. Hot Fuzz has police officers who are good people as the good guys, and (spoiler alert, etc.) a police officer who has become consumed by hate and who abuses his power as the main bad guy. It’s not going to make anyone worried about endorsing police brutality or anything. Hot Fuzz is funny. The Other Guys is funny. And probably some other films I can’t remember right now.”
ETL: “Funny is the key word here. Four Lions is a film about terrorists and it’s funny. Three Kings is about the first Iraq war and it’s funny. There have been cold ware satires about the real threat of nuclear annihilation (Dr. Strangelove), black comedies about incest (Spanking The Monkey) and they get away with it because they are funny. They can even make a film about police abuse be funny. You can get away with a lot with funny.”
The pertinent question for me is how Let’s Be Cops will be looked at ten years from now. I’ve seen a lot of reviews of the film that have framed it in the context of what’s been going on in Ferguson, Missouri (and elsewhere) lately. But while strained relations between a community and its law-enforcement is nothing new—and will probably continue to be an issue in society decades hence—there’s a specificity to the Let’s Be Cops reaction that should fade over time. It’s similar to how people who watch The Watch right now aren’t preoccupied by Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman any more. (Instead, they’re thinking, “Gosh, this movie is shitty,” and, “Why the hell am I watching The Watch?”)
I haven’t seen Let’s Be Cops, but it’s my understanding from Nathan and others that it would be a disappointingly punchless movie even if the headlines right now weren’t so depressing, because it reportedly doesn’t try to say anything relevant about how it feels to wield the power of the state. It’s an unfortunate bit of bad timing that Let’s Be Cops came out when it did (though the boffo box office certainly didn’t reflect any widespread dismay), but the movie apparently hasn’t done itself any favors by being so stubbornly detached. As I said above, people have long held strong feelings about the police that Let’s Be Cops could’ve drawn on for satirical purposes—or even just for more mindless comedy.
So I’m glad so many people are using the occasion of Let’s Be Cops to write about something that matters, since the film itself doesn’t. That said, as someone who reads a lot of old reviews, I wonder how the Let’s Be Cops criticism will read down the line. When I wrote about director Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man for “Cable Pick Of The Day” last week, I revisited Pauline Kael’s review of the film, in which she hailed the lightly comic first hour and then complained that the second hour contains so many thuddingly obvious Vietnam War parallels that, “Penn loses any claim to sensitivity: this is just crude, ideological filmmaking.” And I have to admit, during the three or four times that I’ve watched Little Big Man in my life, I’ve never really thought about it in terms of Vietnam. The blunt ideology of one era can go right over the head of another.
The solution then? ETL nails it: Make better movies. Filmmakers can’t control how a volatile world will affect the way people look at their films at the time they come out—or even decades later, when mainstream attitudes about some social issues may have changed. But quality lasts.
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