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"Cop Out" is a silly waste of time. In other words, it's just what we need right now. An outrageously smutty comedy that riffs on cop movie clichés even as it uses them to anchor its loopy plot, it's got automatic weapons, Tracy Morgan in overdrive and Bruce Willis rolling his eyes in a way that says, "I'm surrounded by crazy people." Even if you think it's a mess, you have to admit it's no bore.

Brooklyn cops Jimmy (Willis) and Paul (Morgan) are celebrating their ninth anniversary as partners, and like lots of longtime couples, they live to push each other's buttons.

Paul is a manic jabber-jaw, Jimmy the exasperated old pro. In their introductory scene, Paul interrogates a suspect by pummeling him while bellowing dialogue from "Star Wars," "Dirty Dancing" and "An Officer and a Gentleman."

Jimmy, on the other side of the one-way mirror, mists the glass with his breath and doodles naughty graffiti. Not only does their performance art break up a dull workday -- an audience of cops bursts into applause -- it gets them a lead on nefarious Mexican drug dealers that launches the narrative arc.

Each cop has family problems. Jimmy has to sell a rare baseball card to finance his daughter's dream wedding, or else face humiliation by his ex-wife's new husband (sneering Jason Lee). Paul is convinced his wife is cheating on him while he's on stakeout with his partner. The story zigs and zags between the guys' private lives and detective stuff; it never settles into a smooth groove, but I was glued to it. A lot of us are juggling private anxieties and job responsibilities these days, and the movie's characters seem more true to the times than the usual single-minded cop protagonists.

The stars have an off-balance rapport. Morgan has never been my cup of tea on TV -- he's too much the spotlight hog -- but here his monkeyshines gain momentum. The nuttier he acts, the funnier he gets. He overplays everything. Willis' smirk is firmly in place, but for the first time in years he seems actually amused. Seann William Scott plays a sneering wiseacre thief who pops in and out of the movie when it needs additional comic relief. Kevin Pollack and Adam Brody play a pair of obnoxious but likable rival detectives. This is one of those movies where you think, "That must have been a fun set."

The movie hums along, thanks to the snappy performances and the hand-held, on-the-fly cinematography. It's the first studio feature from Kevin Smith, who gave us the great "Clerks" and a bunch of movies that were more of a chore than a pleasure. He still has no clue how to tell a story visually. He doesn't shoot action very well, which is sort of a handicap. When the shooting starts, it feels like Hollywood action business as usual. But Smith knows how to be funny.

The film stands as proof that great low comedy doesn't require a great plot -- or a plot at all. Coherence? Logic? Suspense? Fuggeddaboutit. From the title on, "Cop Out" is a grab bag of infantile jokes, a free-associating ode to Jerry Bruckheimer action comedies. It's discombobulated but not incoherent. It hangs together as a crime story -- barely. The jokes are elbow-to-the-ribs obvious, but solid. When one of the cops puts some serious hurt on an underage carjacker, it reduced me to a puddle.

The writers, Robb and Mark Cullen, grab zingers from thin air, juggle them and toss them away with a flourish. The banter is fast and funny, ping-pong exchanges that leave you straining to stifle your giggles so you don't miss a beat. It's a slovenly, lowbrow, nutbrain classic.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186