The laughs are loud, lewd and low in Let's Be Cops, a spoof of cop "buddy pictures" that is pretty much the definition of an August comedy.
The last month of summer is typically a dumping ground for titles that studios don't have high hopes for. Sometimes, that's due to the lack of marketable stars. Sometimes, they're just too hard to market, period. And sometimes, if they're comedies, it's because the belly laughs are few and far between. All of those apply here.
Jake Johnson of TV's New Girl is paired with another generation of Wayans — Damon Wayans Jr. — in this farce about two Ohio losers losing their way through Los Angeles, a tough place to be a single guy with zero status.
Justin (Wayans) is a meek and mousy video game developer who is so passive that he gives off a feminine vibe. Ryan (Johnson) is an ex-jock who once quarterbacked for Purdue, but now spends his days roughing up kids in pick-up games on a local playground. Nobody gives either of these guys a second look.
Justin's cop-centric video game may have been rejected by his bullying boor of a boss, but the police gear he has around the house is handy to have when he and Ryan want to drop in on an alumni "costume" party. People there mistake them for police. Women eyeball these manly men in uniform. And Ryan, who used to feel the love of the crowd, gets hooked.
"Let's be cops!"
Next thing you know, they're walking the streets, in uniform with fake guns and fake nametags — Justin is "Officer Chang." The cute waitress he'd like to reveal his true identity/sexuality to (Nina Dobrev) checks him out, so he's in. But Ryan is way in — trading his battered '80s Camaro for an eBay police cruiser, adding decals and lights, boning up on police procedure, listening for real police calls on a scanner.
"The plan is we control the situation," he growls. "That's what the YouTube video says!"
Things get more and more out of hand, from domestic disturbances that turn out to be spirited sorority girl brawls, to tangles with the Russian mob. The psychotic head mobster Mossi (James D'Arcy) is not amused as "the new sheriffs in town."
Co-writer/director Luke Greenfield (Something Borrowed) lets what few laughs there are in the script land. Johnson's timing is sharp, and Wayans has that Wayans way with dopey under-reactions to crazy situations. Ask that raging sorority girl her name.
"Not your gang name. Or your stripper name. Your real name."
The pairing of these two sometimes works, but Wayans has more of the name and the look than the edge or charismatic comic spark of his dad or his dad's funnier family members.
Johnson has made a number of smart indie film choices that allowed him to shine — Drinking Buddies, Safety Not Guaranteed. This one is far more conventional and seriously short of zingers.
"What's the worst that could happen?"
The answer to that is, you could end up in a summer comedy that's barely funny enough to warrant — ahem — release in the summer.