If you’re one of the two or three people who still pine for another “Police Academy” movie, “Let’s Be Cops” may be your cup of tea, even though the buddies played by Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. are just pretend fuzz and not the real thing. The alleged action comedy is so bad that the perpetrators should probably be arrested, convicted and incarcerated anywhere but in a movie studio. But maybe appearing in it is punishment enough. Certainly watching it is.
Ryan (Johnson) and Justin (Wayans) are a couple of Ohio expatriates who have found it hard to make it in LA. Ryan, a onetime Purdue quarterback turned irresponsible slacker, spends most of his time hogging the ball in park games with little kids. Justin, a shy software designer, is pushed around by his egotistical boss (Todd Lajoie), who dismisses his idea for an interactive game called La Patrolman. When the duo are invited to a college reunion, they dress up in Justin’s phony cop uniforms in the mistaken notion that it’s a costume affair. (The gathering, one might note, is such a snootily upscale deal that one would imagine these are Ivy League grads, not the product of the Indiana campus.)
The implausible conceit that follows us that as the boys walk home, they find that they’re suddenly irresistible to all the beautiful girls out on the town. (Surely all LA cops have this problem.) Ryan also gets off on the power the uniform gives him, while Justin finds that it gives him the confidence to approach pretty waitress Josie (Nina Dobrev). But his interest in her quickly brings him and Ryan to the attention of scummy crime boss Mossi (James D’Arcy), whose intense interest in the little restaurant where she works will eventually be explained by a really dumb plot revelation.
It would be a tedious business to follow the various silly threads the script by director Luke Greenfield and his co-writer Nicholas Thomas lays out. Suffice it to say that in time Ryan has not only promoted himself to sergeant and them detective, but reworked a car he bought on eBay into a police cruiser, and the pair win over Segars (a subdued Rob Riggle), a beat cop who thinks they’re the real deal. He helps them establish surveillance on Mossi’s operation, which turns out to implicate an even higher-up kingpin (Andy Garcia). The last thirty minutes of the movie turn pretty nasty and violent, which helps to explain the R rating (along with some ill-advised F bombs, some of them tossed by Ryan at the kids in plays football with).
“Let’s Be Cops” ends up proclaiming how the whole imposture—a premise that might raise some eyebrows, given that guys pretending to be cops often do so for quite nefarious purposes—to have had beneficial effects: not only is a crime ring unmasked, but even more importantly, Ryan learns responsibility and Justin self-confidence. Unfortunately, the road to those outcomes is littered with frantic shtick from Johnson, a pallid turn by Wayans, limp helming by Greenfield and surprisingly few laughs. There’s more tedium than humor here, though Natasha Leggero gets a few laughs as the woman whose apartment the guys take over to spy on Mossi and Keegan-Michael Key even more as a truck-driving thug whom Justin tries to impersonate in one sequence. But their contributions go on too long, as does the movie itself, which should certainly have been trimmed by fifteen minutes or so. Technically the picture is more than adequate, though the editing by Jonathan Schwartz and Bill Pankow could be sharper.
“Let’s Be Cops” should really disappear without a trace in the dog days of summer, but when a movie like “Ride Along”—which frankly isn’t much better—can become a huge success, who can say? The mixture of stupidity and violence might just catch on and start yet another unwelcome franchise.