Once upon a time, Kevin Smith was the indie filmmaker that every burgeoning young film geek wanted to become. The guy who maxed out a half-dozen credit cards and mortgaged his entire future on the hope that his talky, bare-bones first feature would take off. The guy who was able to capture and examine the ritual habits and daily conversations of incurable nerds trapped in various states of arrested development. The guy who introduced a nation to the act of snowballing.
A lot has changed since then, but Smith hasn’t. And that’s not a value judgment, necessarily, but rather an acknowledgement that he’s still an incredibly polarizing filmmaker, one seen as a gifted writer or a childish pedant or somewhere between the two depending on who you ask. (You’ll rarely get the same answer twice.) Even as he continues to transition into a fuller career as an on-air figure, thanks to his Smodcast network, Smith is forever one of the most debated ‘90s filmmakers and one that’s still trying to reinvent himself as a filmmaker. Whether those experiments actually worked is something we’ll get at momentarily, but at the very least, you can’t say the man settled.
So, with the release of his 11th feature, film/horror entry Tusk, drawing near, we figured it’s time to look back at Smith’s work, to compare his two decades of output against one another and attempt to determine what his best and worst movies have been. (Mild spoiler: you can probably guess the worst one, regardless of whether or not you’ve actually seen a Smith film recently.) From Clerks to Red State, we’ve debated them all at length and would like to present our definitive list of the best and worst of Kevin Smith.
10. Cop Out (2010)
I’d kill to go back in time and hang out on the set of the 2010 buddy cop comedy Cop Out, if only to see how someone made Tracy Morgan not funny. Because everything Tracy Morgan says is funny. Cop Out, however, is not funny, nor is Tracy Morgan in Cop Out. And, I repeat, everything Tracy Morgan says is funny. How did this happen?
Well, according to Kevin Smith, Morgan wasn’t the problem. “Were it not for Tracy, I would’ve killed myself or someone else during the filming of Cop Out,” he said on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast.
Bruce Willis, however? “It was fucking soul-crushing,” Smith said.
Unfortunately, it ain’t just Willis, either, though disinterest pours from every pore of his grubby husk. Nearly every single talent in this movie — Morgan, Willis, Rashida Jones, Guillermo Diaz, Jason Lee — is wasted, reduced to limp dialogue, stale gags, and indifference on every front. Seann William Scott, as a low-level thief, scores a few laughs by indulging the sense of abandon that comes with giving zero fucks.
Ultimately, Cop Out is just confused: incompatible leads, a clumsy tone, and Smith, simply the wrong man for this job. His lackadaisical pacing and extended riffs feel at odds with the genre it’s (ostensibly) spoofing and clash painfully with the moments of high action and surprisingly brutal violence.
To be fair, it’s the first film he directed that he didn’t also write, and he clarified in pre-release interviews that it’s “not MY movie, [it’s] a movie I was hired to direct.”
Oh well, everyone got paid. –Randall Colburn