Promotional still of Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson in Let's Be Cops.

Spirited Performances Can’t Save Thin Let’s Be Cops

The one-joke premise and lowbrow humor make for a particularly long 104 minutes.

During their innocent childhood games of cops and robbers, many kids dream of one day joining the real-life police force. In the case of the dismal comedy Let’s Be Cops, apparently some adults still harbor those feelings as well, at least those suffering from arrested development.

It’s an ill-conceived twist on the buddy-cop genre with a broad collection of gags about macho posturing and men behaving badly that spirited performances can’t rescue.

The film follows the impulsive slacker Ryan (Jake Johnson) and his more subdued best friend Justin (Damon Wayans Jr.), a fledgling video-game designer, who decide to attend a costume party as a pair of convincing officers.

When their fake-cop masquerade proves to be a hit, Ryan gets caught up in the adrenaline and takes it several steps further. Justin reluctantly becomes his sidekick, whether they’re busting potential vandals on the street or responding to calls overheard on a scanner, including a robbery incident involving an oblivious real-life cop (Rob Riggle).

Naturally, things get out of hand pretty quickly, especially when Russian mobsters endanger the duo to the extent that blowing their cover might be the least of their concerns.

It’s worth considering that it might be easier to impersonate a cop in today’s world, where you can learn proper lingo or procedures on television or online, and even purchase a used cruiser and uniform without much difficulty.

Still, the one-joke premise in the low-brow screenplay co-written by director Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door) struggles at feature length, and the gags feel strained and obvious at any rate.

Johnson and Wayans, who are co-stars in the sitcom New Girl, use that familiarity to develop a modest chemistry but their squabbling becomes repetitive. The film manages some scattered big laughs, mostly for Wayans, who is more of a natural comedian (with a family legacy to back it up, of course).

With its lack of grounding in reality, Let’s Be Cops asks moviegoers to sympathize with its pair of bumbling protagonists simply because they’re obnoxious rather than heroic. At any rate, the film is more interested in poking fun at real-life cops instead of appreciating them, which wouldn’t be such a bad idea if it was actually funny.