(disclaimer: I started writing this review before everybody was writing about RED STATE playing at Sundance, and before you guys all discussed Kevin Smith to death. But I still decided to finish it because the tortoise vs. the hare, etc.)
Kevin Smith has been in the news lately for not wanting to be in the news. He’s done a few interviews about how he refuses to do interviews, and sights like /film have been kissing his ass for basically saying that sights like /film can kiss his ass. He has been doing promotion for his new movie RED STATE by going around saying that he will refuse to do any promotion for his new movie RED STATE.
Smith’s “if you’re not with my flicks you’re against my flicks so go fuck yourself” attitude goes back to the piss poor reviews he got for his last movie, COP OUT. Since it stars the actor Bruce Willis I was planning to break my non-Kevin-Smith-watching streak and pay to see it in the theater. But before I got to it I read that Smith was mad about negative reviews and wasn’t gonna allow critics screenings of his “flicks” anymore. He felt criticism of COP OUT was unfair since he wasn’t so much trying to make a high quality movie as something that could be compared to (and this is a quote) “a retarded kid who was getting a couple chuckles from the normies by singing AFTERNOON DELIGHT.” And of course then he went to my favorite knucklehead standby, asking “Was it called Schindler’s Cop Out?” Because you know how it’s not fair to have standards of quality for comedies or action movies, only movies about the Holocaust.
(And anyway the way the answer is yes, in some territories it was released as Schindler’s Cop Out.)
All this of course read to me as “Dear Vern, please treat this new Bruce movie like DISNEY’S THE KID and THE WHOLE 9-10 YARDSes and skip it, signed, Kevin Smith.” And I followed that imagined advice.
That was a year ago or whatever, and to this day I haven’t heard anything positive about the movie. Now I watched it, and I gotta be honest… I didn’t think it was all that bad! I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to you fellas (partly ’cause I read that you already saw and hated it) and I have already forgotten most of it. But I gotta admit I got some laughs and I didn’t cringe as much as I did in the more personal Kevin Smith movies where he’s pouring his heart out or just making all his characters talk to each about Star Wars and dicks in the same type of rhythm and wording. I guess it’s kind of an asshole thing to say, but since I don’t really like Kevin Smith movies I was pleasantly surprised that this one felt more like an okay James Belushi movie from the ’80s. That’s more my speed I guess.
Sorry to give backhanded compliments here. I’m just being honest. Personally I prefer Smith’s movies that he later disowns to the ones that get Criterion editions. I actually thought ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO was the best of the ones I’ve seen. It looked like it was shot by professional camera operators, it was pretty funny and likable and had a good performance by Elizabeth Banks. Poor abandoned Superman Brandon Routh got to be funny it too. There was a key emotional moment (if I remember right it involved her falling in love with her friend while having sex with him on camera) that just rang completely false, but it didn’t feel like it sunk the whole movie the way those types of things did for me in CHASING AMY.
But that movie didn’t do very well and then he said in interviews that his heart wasn’t in it anymore. I guess I need his heart not to be in it for it to align with my tastes. Or to have Bruce Willis in it.
In COP OUT Bruce is the straight man and Tracey Morgan basically plays his insane 30 ROCK character if he was for some reason allowed to carry a gun and enforce the law. I guess in a way this is kind of a step down from the racial politics of BEVERLY HILLS COP (which, I’m sorry to report, did not hold up at all when I watched it a couple years ago) because in that one the black guy was a con man who outsmarted everybody else, in this one he’s like a mildly retarded lunatic who only achieves anything by accident, and has no clue what’s going on.
But on second thought he’s far more dignified than the characters in BAD BOYS, never calls himself a “negro,” makes fun of gays or threatens to rape anybody. So in a way this is an important movie for race relations. And there’s something to be said for the fact that it’s a white cop-black cop movie where no jokes or comments are made about their race. I respect that.
In the tradition of Daft Punk’s score for TRON LEGACY, the best thing about COP OUT is the score by Harold “Axel F Theme” Faltermeyer. It’s that type of bouncy keyboards and drum machines sound every smart-ass cop movie from the ’80s had. Well, the good kind, before LETHAL WEAPON came along and added white-blues guitar noodling and smooth jazz porn sax to the mix. Using this style of music seriously adds alot to the movie. I like it. There’s also an odd selection of iconic late ’80s rap songs by the likes of Beastie Boys, Run DMC and Eric B and Rakim. Oh yeah, and the end credits is a new retro-’80s type song by Patti Labelle!
I’m not gonna pretend all the humor works, or is as good as it could be. I did personally think the opening was funny where Morgan’s version of a “bad cop” interrogation is to randomly cobble together quotes from HEAT, SCARFACE and TRAINING DAY, and eventually devolve into nonsense like “yes they deserve to die and I hope they burn in hey-ell!” and “these are not the droids you’re looking for!” But it kind of kills it to add cutaways of Bruce noting what the different quotes come from. To be fair, I wouldn’t have known one of them was from THE COLOR PURPLE. But it’s still poor comedic form to spoon feed the “cats” in the audience like that.
Bruce is in a weird place to be doing a movie like this. Remember, he started out doing comedy, then became the funny wiseass action guy, which evolved into the stone-faced action guy, now he’s the stone-faced action guy in comedies. Not the best use of his talents, but he does the job well.
I don’t even think the plot is that bad. It’s the formula with a gentle amount of quirk. As usual Bruce plays a guy who fucked up his family life in the past. His ex-wife is remarried to a rich guy (Jason Lee from the ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS saga) who wants to pay for Bruce’s daughter’s dream wedding. Out of pride Bruce can’t let that happen, so he decides to sell his rare baseball card, which ends up getting stolen by a meth head (Seann William Scott) who trades it for drugs. So while suspended from the force (if I remember right) Bruce and Tracy Morgan are trying to take down this drug dealer, but mainly because they need to get the baseball card back.
And I like that the vicious druglord keeps the card, doesn’t sell it, because he collects baseball memorabilia. That in itself might not be a positive thing if it did not also mean that he has a batting cage where he tortures those who fail him by hitting balls at them. But it does, so I’m for it.
Like alot of cop movies there’s another pair of cops that are kind of the asshole rivals that give them shit all the time. They’re played by Kevin Pollack and Adam Brody. At first they seem like the typical version of this type of character, but they throw in these little nerdy touches here and there that make them different. I like the part where the young guy asks Pollack if he remembered to take his pills. He sounds like his mother. They don’t play it too broad or do a bunch of corny riffing on it. I was honestly impressed.
I finally got around to watching this movie after listening to this interview with Smith on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, where Smith says that he always dreamed of meeting Bruce Willis but he turned out to be a total dick and it was “soul crushing.” If Bruce was being unfriendly I gotta wonder if he was just staying in character. The whole movie he has to glare bitterly at his partner the way one would imagine one would glare bitterly at Smith if one was annoyed that a professional director doesn’t know the names of different lenses (apparently Smith tells a story about that). The character is a dick, and the original title of the movie was “A COUPLE OF DICKS.”
In fact, you gotta admit that Bruce’s whole persona is a dick, going back to David Addison on Moonlighting. He always plays the lovable asshole, the wiseass who insults everybody around him, and it’s grating to the people in his life. As my buddy Mr. Armageddon pointed out when I was talking to him about it, “it’s not like you’re surprised that John McClane is divorced.” And you’re not surprised that in part 3 all the other cops despise him. Even though to us he’s awesome.
Of course that’s no excuse for being a pain in the ass to work with. I’d like to think it’s not true, that he’s a nice guy, but I wasn’t there.
So that’s a personal beef, you can’t really have much of an opinion on that from the outside, but Smith’s deal with critics and writers is another story. In his sudden war against the press I think Smith is pulling an M. Night Shyamalan (although I don’t think he ever showed the same knack for filmatism that Shyamalan used to). Shyamalan had done very well reviewed movies, some nominated for Oscars, until people hated THE VILLAGE, so in his next movie LADY IN THE WATER he’s so mad he makes the only person that gets killed be an asshole film critic. That’s called “being a baby,” and Smith is guilty too. He thinks critics are too hard on him, but from where I’m standing it seems like they gave him a free ride for about a decade because they thought he was a nice relatable guy. At least the internet people did. Even JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK was well received on the internet, how do you explain that shit? How are you not grateful for that?
I mean I’ve been on the internet talking about movies since ’99, and it was years before the tide turned against him. And this is surprising in a world built mostly on negativity.
I guess I have some sympathy for his vendetta. He seems to be on the internet twittering and bloggering all day, so he probly just gets shit thrown at him 24-7 and soaks it into his brain. Negative Nellies grow on the internet like bacteria. It doesn’t matter if you’re Stanley Kubrick, they’re gonna tell you you don’t know what you’re doing, and Kevin Smith is really, really not Stanley Kubrick, so I can only imagine what he gets on his message boards.
If that’s a motive for his war against the press then he’s lumping the writers who do articles and reviews with the talkbackers who just call you a cocksucker in all caps (or all lower case). Admittedly there’s a blurring of the line between those two. Anybody can start a websight. I can prove it, because I started one, and what the fuck do I know? What he’s maybe missing though is that he’s exactly the same thing. The reason those guys used to worship him is because he proved that anybody could make a movie, you didn’t have to have a ridiculous amount of money, or a film school degree, or know any actors, or have a sense of visuals. They loved CLERKS because they saw themselves in it, they loved him because they thought he was just like them. If this guy who calls everybody “cats” and wears a giant trenchcoat can sell his black and white home movie for a bunch of money and have it played in real theaters and buy a comic book shop and make action dolls then shit, maybe you can do something you dreamed of too, right? That was his whole appeal, I thought.
In the late ’90s and early 2000s most of the people on The Ain’t It Cool News considered CHASING AMY a mature, good movie, and Smith a great writer of dialogue. They thought he was gonna do a great job writing a Superman movie. They trusted his seal of approval on the Daredevil movie. He was one of them. It was one of the early examples of that “he’s a geek like us” attitude that they get a pass and it’s assumed everything they do is gonna be awesome because they know all about what happens in issue number 76 of Super X-Squad Rescue Force: Negative Zone Green Power Wars and Swords: Revelations #2 of 3 alternate scratch ‘n sniff cover B. (some comic book titles simulated)
Picture for a second that you’re a reviewer or columnist or somebody who has always related to Kevin Smith for those reasons. He was the guy who made fun of other people, not you. He talked shit about Tim Burton for not liking his Superman script, about Prince for being a weirdo, now about Bruce Willis for alleged dickishness, and about producers and marketers in the movie industry, faceless bad guys we can all agree to be against ’cause they don’t get it like you and your buddy Kevin Smith do. But then all the sudden he turns on you. He’s talking shit about your profession or hobby, calling you a parasite, bragging about how he doesn’t need you and how (this is my favorite) he has more Twitter followers than you.
I think there are alot of those guys out there feeling betrayed, so it makes sense that there’s a wave of anti-Kevin Smith sentiment now. He went out of his way to get that. He’s no longer “one of us” when he’s telling his guys that they suck.
Don’t take this too harsh, but in my opinion alot of the people writing about movies right now are kind of like Kevin Smiths or sub-Kevin Smiths of film criticism. They’re doing it because they had the gumption and made the effort to do it, and that’s great, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing a good job of it. I got alot of picky personal objections to the way people are doing it, both on the internet and in print (and shit, on podcasts too). It’s not really my business other than as a person who reads these websights and what not myself and wishes there were more great ones out there. But I can see how for Mr. Smith some dumb bandwagon-jumping gossip columnist with no brain for film analysis writing bad reviews of his movies without backing up their points well could be frustrating.
I might be a Kevin Smith too (I have the same book publisher, after all) but at the very least I aspire to more. I think film criticism can, should be and is more than some “plot summary, 2 stars, wait for the DVD” type bullshit. It can make you think about a movie in new ways, make connections you wouldn’t have thought of, point out beautiful things in a movie you’ve seen a hundred times but never noticed before, point you to a movie or a genre or a director you always ignored before. Now, because of the internet, it can even sometimes turn into a discussion with the people that made the movie or the people who fuck similar animals to the ones that are fucked in the movie, if the movie is the documentary ZOO and the review is the one I wrote on The Ain’t It Cool News. So I’m gonna say that yes, good film criticism is gonna be a hell of a lot more worthwhile to the world than Kevin Smith’s 500 randomly selected Twitter followers saying in one-hundred-however-many-characters whether or not they liked his “flick” (which he offered as a superior alternative to screening his movies for critics).
I guess most of those things are much more likely to occur in a positive review than a negative one. Maybe that’s why it becomes a chore to read reviews from somebody who has become so jaded they hardly seem to enjoy movies anymore. I don’t like people who dwell on the negative either. But sometimes movies are shitty. Sometimes you gotta tell it like it is, don’t you?
So I resent the concept of critics as worthless parasites. We’re more like the good parasites (isn’t there a bird that rides around on a rhino or something?). Yeah, there needs to be a movie for us to write about, but the movie and the culture of watching movies benefits when we’re doing it right.
And I mean, how the fuck does a guy grow up a movie nerd and not ever get into reading the reviews of the new Martin Scorsese, or looking up what Pauline Kael said about some movie you liked, or checking those “Cult Movies” books out at the prison library, or watching Siskel and Ebert? I gotta call bullshit on that one. If you’re really such a movie nerd and a writer then it just doesn’t make any sense that you would have no respect for talking about, analyzing, writing about movies. I don’t buy it.
You make movies, and you really don’t think it’s worthwhile to write about movies? Then maybe you’re not making movies that are worthwhile to write about, that’s the problem. It’s not us, it’s you.
Good call on Harold Faltermeyer though.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.