** (out of four)
Filmmakers can always, always devise something funnier than “overweight naked man’s junk collides with hero’s face.” Writers: Take a deep breath, calm down and add it to the do-not-use list alongside “baby poops in his dad’s mouth” (“The Change-Up”) and “main character makes fun of everyone constantly” (nearly all recent Adam Sandler movies).
The aforementioned intersection of upstairs and downstairs bits is probably the low point in “Let’s Be Cops,” but it’s hardly the only moment that finds an already-tired premise passing out. Unsatisfied with themselves at 30, Ryan (Jake Johnson) and Justin (Johnson’s “New Girl” costar Damon Wayans Jr.) decide they should wear ill-advised cop outfits—Zac Efron was funnier in the wrong kind of costume at a theme party in “That Awkward Moment”—full-time. Ryan, a former star quarterback whose only recent achievement is a genital herpes commercial, loves the instant respect that comes with a (fake) badge and uniform. Justin, a nervous video game designer, isn’t buying it. But his new (pretend) profession attracts a gorgeous waitress (Nina Dobrev) who previously rendered him speechless, so what the hell. Neither of these dopes appears to have seen “21 Jump Street,” “Date Night” or the “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” episode in which the gang impersonates cops.
Of course, this leads to sparring with stock villains and a twist that will surprise no one. Director/co-writer Luke Greenfield moves “Let’s Be Cops” through several plot points of his superior “The Girl Next Door,” thankfully never dipping anywhere near his zero-star “Something Borrowed.” Wayans shows promise as a leading man, and “Cops” would be a fine Redbox pick if your top three choices are out. There are some laughs. “Stop, guys, can’t I just dance?” Justin whines as women who think the “cops” are strippers grope him. While the partners waterboard a resisting suspect in the sink, they yell, “Stop drinking it!” Asking people to stop doing stuff sometimes equals funny, apparently.
Mostly, the unconvincing, low-energy “Let’s Be Cops” feels generic and a little sad (and too amused by homoeroticism and homophobia). It’s more “The Watch” than “End of Watch,” striking the wrong note with gags like Ryan and Justin pulling their guns on each other in a restaurant and the other patrons freaking out—as they should. A scene of cooling off angry sorority sisters has one laugh tucked inside a larger quantity of uncomfortable. Great, now I’m thinking of that giant naked dude again.
Watch Matt review the week's big new movies Fridays at noon on NBC.
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.