By Owen Gleiberman
Updated February 26, 2010 at 05:00 AM EST
Abbot Genser

I’m always up for a new Kevin Smith film, because whatever lark he’s tossing off, you can usually count on enjoying the sound of his Preston Sturges?meets?Ron Jeremy dialogue, a form of wordplay so scrappy and alive that it could never have come out of some Hollywood hack’s corporate screenwriting software. In Cop Out, however, Smith has set himself a special challenge: The film is a barely satirical homage to the interracial buddy-cop flicks that flourished in the 1980s, and that means Smith is trying to mimic some of the most machine-tooled wise-guy banter in the history of cinema. I hoped he’d take the genre and run with it, injecting his own overripe, nearly scholastic flights of profane observation. Instead, working for the first time from a script he didn’t write (it’s by Marc and Robb Cullen), he mimics everything about movies like Running Scared and the Lethal Weapon series that’s now best forgotten: the slovenly plots and obligatory jackhammer action (which Smith can’t stage worth a lick), the fake-outrageous atmosphere of preening, strutting misbehavior.

What he misses is what made those movies fun and, in the case of 48 HRS., classic: the testy, back-and-forth hostility between black and white crime-fighting partners. As the veteran New York police duo of Cop Out, Bruce Willis, all coolheaded reserve (he’s so Zen here he barely smirks — or acts), and Tracy Morgan, who never stops shouting in baby-voiced hysteria, go through their shtick like buddy-comedy robots. There’s never a moment of real abrasiveness, or anything else, between them — which may be a sign that this form has outlived its relevance. In the Obama era, the notion of blacks and whites having to share an ironic, fraught-with-tension bond seems quaintly dated.

Without that heightened racial antipathy-turned-camaraderie, there’s not a whole lot to Cop Out besides watching Kevin Smith pretend, with a crudeness that is simply boring, that he’s an action director making a comic thriller about cops versus a Mexican drug gang (yawn). The movie’s one bright spot is Seann William Scott, who plays the thief who steals the baseball card that Willis needs to finance his daughter’s wedding. It’s the Joe Pesci role (if that), but Scott, scruffed to the max, with the glittery eyes of a happy sociopath, uses his eager, boyish quickness knowingly, erupting into hilarious flights of echolalia designed to drive everyone around him as crazy as he is. (It works.) He’s a goofball dude, all right, but a dude with danger — a flake who’s a real lethal weapon. C-