I’m with Lenny. “Cop Story” doesn’t hit very hard. Considering it’s about an obnoxious sad sack cop with no loved ones who sometimes considers killing himself (Michael Rapaport’s Lenny), it sure is nimble. It doesn’t dwell on anything, least of all what it means to return a gun to a man who only realized he lost it because he was going to demonstrate his suicidal fantasy. Instead, the gun brings light into Lenny’s life. When Louie walks in the door and holds up the service weapon, Lenny hugs him to the ground and cries on his shoulder, Louie still holding the gun behind this guy who isn’t more trouble than he’s worth like a reverse Of Mice And Men. Something went right for once.
The search for the gun leads to some funny stuff, but first Louie returns to the bar to double-check they didn’t find a cop’s gun on the ground, which I think is something that would have come through the first time he and Lenny asked. Instead Louie finds the gun lying on the sidewalk, and the camerawork goes into a flurry as he self-consciously picks it up and hides it under his coat. He runs off, but he slows to a halt in front of a police van, and the gun falls to his feet. He just stands there frozen as the van unloads all around him, and nobody notices anything. Come to think of it, what would have happened if a cop did notice the gun? Louie would have told them the truth, and he’d still be in trouble in some capacity, but it’d be even worse for Lenny. So that’s two things that went very well for Lenny in “Cop Story.”
Before that it’s a parade of embarrassments. As Louie recaps, “You insulted me about 30 times tonight,” in that macho ball-busting kind of way. “You don’t give a shit about what I have to say,” in that every time Louie starts to speak, Lenny resumes his dreary babble. “Do you ask about me, about myself? Do you know that I’m a dad, that I’m divorced?” Apparently Lenny and Louie’s sister were together forever ago, not just a couple years or something, the way it seemed from Lenny’s enthusiasm. Lenny tries to take Louie to a Knicks game, but it turns out he didn’t have tickets. He just had a badge he expected to work, but the cop at the door is unimpressed. Finally, after going back to Louie’s to look for the gun, Lenny’s rough with Louie’s stuff. There’s some tension in wondering how much Louie will take, but there isn’t much time to play with, and there are a lot of little episodes to get through: Lenny showing up at Louie’s house, Lenny and Louie on the sidewalk, Lenny trying to get into the game, Lenny and Louie at the bar, Lenny and Louie on the way home. Louie barely matters in any of them. Lenny’s the one jabbering, Louie’s in the background of the scene with the guard, the bartenders tell him to take a hike, the cops don’t even notice him. “Cop Story” is working hard to illustrate what he’s told in the opening scene, that Louie feels like he doesn’t matter anymore.
Eventually Louie lets Lenny have it, proposing to go down a block and walk back on parallel streets, never intersecting again, if you catch his drift. Then Lenny does that Louie guest actor thing where suddenly Louie’s the asshole. “How do you think that makes me feel [to hear you criticize my obnoxious behavior]?” Louie finally asserts himself, but there are consequences to action. But as soon as the conversation pivots to that, it pivots again, because Lenny realizes he lost his gun. That’s pretty much how the Lenny story works. Everything is given the same amount of weight, and whenever anything interesting happens, there’s not much time to explore it.
Except for Lenny’s introduction, that is. Louie’s walking across a street, and a cop in his car at the intersection says through the bullhorn, “Hey, you. Get outta da street.” He chases Louie around the corner, and then demands some identification. This is the perfect dramatization of Lenny and Louie’s relationship. Louie’s standing there immobile, bags hanging from both his fists, and Lenny steamrolls him into the Knicks date. He reaches into Louie’s pocket to get his phone, gives him his number, and even rhetorically outplays Louie so he can’t get out of it. When they split, Lenny gives Louie a parting shot over the speaker: “Excuse me, Sir. Don’t let me see you molesting kids anymore or I’m gonna bring you in, you understand me? Don’t be offering kids candy in the street, freak.” It speaks to how good Lenny is at his job that he would let a child molester off with a warning.
At one point Lenny tells Louie, in the Darwinian sense, “We’re being selected out.” Now we’re talking. Like the parallel roads idea, this is a quintessentially Louie take on the world, a moving illustration of the big picture. Only, Louie isn’t being selected out. If Lenny would let Louie get a word in, he’d find out that Louie has two delightful, annoying offspring.
That’s what ties the bulk of “Cop Story” to the high-reaching opening scene where Louie has some words with an employee at a kitchen supply store who wouldn’t let him see the expensive copper pots because they’re for professionals and the store was closing. When he finds out she’s the owner, he’s even more upset, because she should, in his estimation, want to make more money by selling him a copper pot. I love that moment on Louie when people who haven’t said much turn out to have some strong opinions about whatever’s going on, as when the owner, Andrea (Clara Wong), finally strings together more than a few words to say, “Our customers come here to find the best, not because they want their egos stroked by a young Asian clerk.” They also often turn out to be dickish.
Louie overreacts to the idea that race is a factor, in an exaggerated Colbert kind of way—compare that to the moment Louie tells Lenny that Lenny does not get to deny Louie’s pain—but they move on. He sees this as her idly rejecting “thousands of years of human commerce.” I’m not sure what he means exactly, but flip that argument around, and it’s clear Louie expected a certain kind of service because that’s what every other store owner would do. From his viewpoint, at least at work, we’re all just schematically fulfilling functions, interchangeable and essentially meaningless.
Andrea also sees this in a historical light. She sees this encounter as an example of Louie’s unease around millennials, which in typical Louie fashion is both wisdom and bravado. The camera moves in to highlight her little speech. “Because we’re the future, and you don’t belong in it. Because we’re beyond you, and naturally that makes you feel kinda bad. You have this deep down feeling that you don’t matter anymore.” But, evolutionarily, that’s a good thing, she says. “Do you want your kids’ world to be a step above yours? Idn’t that what we’re all doin’?” (Tell me I didn’t mishear that burst of country twang.) If Louie’s done a good job, his children will be smarter, which is shorthand for all kinds of things like thoughtfulness and awareness, but we don’t have all day. “So, if you feel stupid around young people, things are going good.” That’s right, “going good.” “Going well” is for olds. Anyway, there it is, wisdom from Andrea to Louie and Lenny and beyond. Feeling obsolete is not just natural but good. It’s a compelling point, but it’s easy for her to say.
- After Andrea refuses to show Louie the copper pots, he looks over at a mannequin and says, “Can you believe that shit?” He also leans in to give the mannequin a sweet little kiss as the music swells.
- Another testament to Lenny’s professionalism: When Louie opens the door, he barges in with his gun drawn and makes pow-pow noises.
- At his lowest, Lenny confesses, “Sometimes I feel really bad,” and looks over at Louie. After a beat, Louie responds, “Well, so, uh, how do you like being a cop?”