The actions of police officers aren’t often a source of humor in the real world (especially these days), but the subject can still be fertile ground for comedy in movies and TV. This week’s Roundtable looks at a few of our favorite cop comedies (and some that aren’t so great).
We’ve specifically tackled buddy-cop movies in a prior Roundtable. Most of those tend to be action movies first with some jokes thrown in. Although we may have some overlap here, our focus this time is on movies that are comedies first and foremost, even if they also have buddies in them.
My pick is ‘The Naked Gun‘, the first and best of the ‘Police Squad!’ movies. Although the type of crazy comedy seen in the film had been established with earlier titles such as ‘Airplane!’, I don’t know if audiences in 1988 were expecting the huge laughs this movie provides. I saw a sneak preview of it when it came out, having no idea going in what kind of comedy it was going to be, and the audience in attendance almost blew the roof off the theater with their joy and laughter.
The smartest thing the Zucker brothers and Jim Abrahams do with their movie is have dramatic actors play the humor straight. Too many comedies these days hire professional comedians and just let them riff on the situations around them, but hiring (otherwise) dramatic actors Leslie Nielsen (who, granted, was a given since the movie is based on a short-lived TV series), George Kennedy, and Ricardo Montalban for the starring roles here was pure genius.
I can’t say ‘The Naked Gun’ is the best comedy I’ve ever seen, but I will say it provided some of the biggest laughs I’ve ever had in a theater. I wish there were more films like it.
Best: While it’s for sure a sappy comedy with a somewhat peculiar tendency to be serious, I love ‘Kindergarten Cop‘. At the onset, Arnold Schwarzenegger is portrayed as fearlessly and disdainfully eating criminals for breakfast, but in an effort to track down an elusive bigger fish, he winds up having to play the part of a caring kindergarten teacher. The many little conversations that he has to navigate with the students make the most out of the idea that he’s policing the classroom.
I should also point out that I love this movie even though I narrowly missed out on seeing the early mall scene filmed. My mother and grandmother happened by chance to be at that mall on that day, and I’m still a bit bitter.
Worst: Through the dubious virtue of cable television I have seen ‘Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot‘ more than once, and to this day, it’s a head-scratcher. How it ever got made and released is some kind of cautionary tale. There’s an ‘SNL’ skit where Stallone finds Norm MacDonald hurt in a wrecked car, and ultimately Norm dies declaring that ‘Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot’ sucked. That bit is easily the only redeemable thing involving this movie.
Best: Does it get any better than Edgar Wright’s hilarious second studio feature, ‘Hot Fuzz‘? When it comes to comedy, few understand it as well as Wright. ‘Fuzz’ is a specimen that contains perfect examples of all types of comedy: wit, puns, irony, slapstick, farce, and more. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are the perfect leading pair. The curmudgeonly villains are perfectly written and entirely hilarious once exposed. ‘Hot Fuzz’ is not only the best cop comedy, but one of the very best comedies of any type in existence.
Worst: I used to be such a big fan of Kevin Smith that it’s hard to believe I haven’t liked a single one of his movies since ‘Clerks 2’. A lot of people give him hell for ‘Jersey Girl’ and – to a lesser extent – ‘Zack and Miri’, but for me a switch flipped with ‘Cop Out‘. I have no idea if this is the case, but it feels like Smith became so arrogant that he stopped showing his scripts to any friends or peers for feedback and started producing anything he wanted. I only watched ‘Cop Out’ once. The only person who seemed to be enjoying the movie even less than me was its star, Bruce Willis. Tracy Morgan plays his usual self, which was actually considered entertaining by some for many years, but the cocktail of Morgan’s tired shtick, Willis’ (now) trademark phone-in performance, the dreadful screenplay, and the unforgettably generic wacky score is 100% groan-worthy.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
Werewolf. Cop. Much as Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups so masterfully wed peanut butter with chocolate, ‘WolfCop‘ delivers two great tastes that taste great together.
For a raging alcoholic like Lou Garou (get it?), waking up after a bender with no clue how he made it home means it’s just another Wednesday. This time, though, he comes to with a pentagram carved into his belly. The surprises don’t end there. Lou’s senses of hearing and smell are superhumanly heightened. He can heal almost instantaneously from any injury. His claws slash through bad guys like a Ginsu through an empty beer can. No, we’re not talking about Wolverine (although they do both hail from Canada!); Lou is a werewolf. The worst cop in this sleepy, little town is now a superhero. Well, superhero-adjacent, anyway, given the stratospheric body count and parade of nightmarishly gruesome kills.
‘WolfCop’ is a (wait for it) howlingly over-the-top riff on police/action movies, drenching the screen in viscera and unleashing some impressively ambitious effects work. This splatter-comedy isn’t content to coast on the ridiculousness of its premise, showcasing a surprisingly compelling mystery as to why Lou has been deliberately lycanthropized and pitting him against a very different class of shapeshifter. It’s fun. It’s nuts. It’s a gory, low-budget effects spectacle. If you think you’d be up for a movie titled ‘WolfCop’, you probably won’t walk away disappointed.
Sadly, ‘Team America: World Police’ is more of a military unit than actual police. I’m going to have to disqualify that one.
The opening scene in ‘The Other Guys‘, featuring Dwayne Johnson and Samuel Jackson as the most badass supercops in America – who also happen to be not terribly bright – had me rolling in laughter right from the outset. The rest of the movie, when Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg take over, is a pretty great parody of the buddy-cop genre too.
On TV, I’m a big fan of ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘. Five seasons in, and it’s still very fresh and funny.
What are your favorite comedies about police? Tell us in the Comments.