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Knock Off

Frank Masi/20th Century Fox

Let's Be Cops (2014)

The buddy cop subgenre has proven such a bankable formula in Hollywood — yet again by the success of “Ride Along” earlier this year — that some might now consider it a bona fide genre. The trope often combines varying percentages of thriller and comedy to mixed results. Some entries like “Lethal Weapon” skew more toward the thriller, while ones like “White Chicks” obviously yield to the comedy. Casting choices usually give a good indication which way it will turn out: If one of the partners belongs in the K-9 unit, you can be sure of the lowered stakes.

Besides the fact that neither of the main characters is an actual police officer, “Let’s Be Cops” feels unorthodox for defying these formulaic expectations the subgenre has been steadily creating through trial and error since its inception in the 1980s. The film actually has incredibly high stakes, like a much sillier “48 Hrs.” rather than a more thrilling “21 Jump Street.” If it’s any indication, Damon Wayans, Jr. plays the straight man to Jake Johnson’s instigator — complete with a reference to the Glover-Gibson dynamic.

Video-game designer Justin (Mr. Wayans) takes home a couple of police uniforms used in an unsuccessful software pitch, and his deadbeat roommate Ryan (Mr. Johnson) suggests that they don those for a supposed costume party that turns out to be a masquerade ball. Upon discovering the perks of being a cop à la the 1994 film “A Man in Uniform,” Ryan goes on eBay to score a cruiser, decals and a light bar while Justin discovers that impersonating police is in fact illegal. But it’s too late, since the dimwits have already become targets of local thugs.

While the film — co-written by Nicholas Thomas and director Luke Greenfield — has some crazy hilarious parts, it establishes a real sense of danger early and often. It’s nail-biting to watch these fools repeatedly risk exposing themselves or pick on ruthless criminals they aren’t prepared to handle. It’s surprising how emotionally invested you become in these numbnuts, especially when the proceedings unfold in an all too predictable fashion.


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