Kevin Smith is something of an oddity, or if you’re a Southwest Air employee, a manatee. I kid, I kid. He’s a large man but people in glass houses shouldn’t fire .50 calibres indoors, you get my drift? But speaking within the confines of the geek community (it’s kind of like the gay community without the ability to coordinate matching outfits) Kevin Smith is either a messiah or the bane of one’s existence. The only middle ground seems to be the people who don’t watch his work at all. Seemingly, you can either love the guy, hate the guy, or nothing the guy.
I’m not a fan of his more recent comic book work. Widening Gyre simply isn’t my cup of tea and I thought Cacophony was a pretty big misfire. But then again I love Guardian Devil and Quiver to death, so it’s not like I hate everything he’s ever done in the medium. When it comes to his films however I’m firmly in the “pro-Smith” camp. Even his lesser films (ie. Jersey Girl, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) are more enjoyable than your average movie. And let’s not forget that the man essentially handed us up Jason Lee on a silver platter, and for that he deserves a medal.
Now he’s back with a new film and it’s the first he’s ever directed that wasn’t also penned by his hand. A lot of naysayers were quick to condemn the film and say he could never put out a movie that he didn’t write and have it connect on any real level. Of course, those same people bitched back when Zack and Miri came out that Seth Rogen and company would probably not be able to deliver Smith’s dialogue in the manner to which we are all accustomed. And to both claims, I have to say; bull-shit.
Cop Out is a great comedy.
Yes. I said great.
Do you want to know why I say this? Because it works. Every buddy cop movie from the 80’s that we loved so much? This is right there with them. It even has a synth score for God’s sake! Foul-mouthed banter between rival buddy-cops. Every bit of interaction between Willis and Morgan’s team and their rival cops gave me warm fuzzy flashbacks to the “we’re not gonna fall for a banana in the tailpipe” bit in Beverly Hills Cop. As Tracy Morgan would call it, paying homm-age.
And let me speak for a moment on Tracy Morgan. This is a man who I feared, oh so greatly, would be just too much to handle for an extended running time on the big screen. He’s wonderful on 30 Rock, but I have to admit that 90% of what makes his schtick funny on there is the way he bounces off the supporting cast. Also, he’s only on screen for a short amount of time so his lunacy doesn’t have the chance to grate on the nerves. I was afraid that in a two hour film he would make me want to commit ritual suicide due to an overload of zaniness. But Morgan, while never losing anything that makes him so hilarious and unpredictable, is able to channel something that makes his character utterly endearing.
On the other side of the fence is Bruce Willis. I have to say that over the years we’ve grown accustomed to him being an overly gruff type and while he still retains that edge here, the best part of his performance comes from that sort of John McClane-era relateableness. He’s playing an everyman here. It is very easy to connect with Bruce Willis because he’s not so hard-nosed that we can’t see ourselves in his shoes. Also he draws a giant boner on the two-way glass of an interrogation room. And, c’mon, that’s gold.
And that’s what I would describe the movie as. Gold. Kevin Smith has made a movie that is sort of a companion piece to Hot Fuzz, but through a different sort of lens. I’m glad to see how much he’s evolved as a director over the years. Go watch Clerks again. Would you honestly think that the director of that low-budget film could frame the kind of car chases and shootouts we see in this movie? Even the way he shoots the dialogue sequences has evolved. And while his sense of humor still seems to have remained constant, with dick and fart jokes aplenty, you can’t deny that he’s still come a very long way.
Army of Two: The 40th Day
Available on the PS3 and Xbox 360
Preferred platform: Whichever your “bros” are on.
You may have noticed that under the preferred platform list I used the word “bro.” This is typically a word that I’d never use but it is heavily warranted for this game. This game possesses one of the bromanciest bromances to ever mance a bro. Sure, Mario and Luigi help each other out whenever Bowser nabs the princess, but we know who takes the spotlight. The same can be said of Sonic and Tails, Ryu and Ken, and most other videogame pairings throughout history. The stars of Army of Two, Tyson Rios and Elliot Salem, know how to keep it real even when the bullets start flying. They know a good mercenary duo takes the time to bond with fist bumps, chest bumps, rounds of rock/paper/scissors, and hugging it out.
Army of Two: The 40th Day is a shooter, which means you could probably tell means it doesn’t possess the best narrative storytelling before you even play it. True, the plotline isn’t exactly prevalent, and Hell if you decline to pick up and listen to some radio messages there’s a chance you don’t know what the heck is going on up until the end of the game. But, in retrospect I’m perfectly fine with that. All you need to know is that shit’s going down in China town and you’re stuck in the middle of it with your partner. You don’t really NEED to know why China is crumbling, you just happen to find out because the people doing the crumbling also want you dead.
Strewn throughout the game are moments of narrative choice In the forms of good/bad moral choices. Kill/Don’t kill this person for extra money/no reward. Steal/don’t steal these weapons for new gun/no gun. These have little impact other than immediate rewards and a reflection on your team’s morality title. Interesting thing about these is the ambiguity. After making a choice you’ll be shown an animated cutscene displaying the future events caused by your actions, often showing events that aren’t as “good” or “bad” as you had originally expected. While most see the morality system as something good or bad for the game, I’m pretty neutral. (Ha, see what I did there?) They could stay or go either way. Also interesting is that these choices are decided by whichever teammate presses a button first. In a solo campaign you have sole control, but in co-op, one of the two players will hold the power.
At least with the absence of an invigorating story, I get to talk more about the gameplay in my review. Woo! Here’s the basics. You start the game, you shoot the bad guys, you earn money, you purchase upgrades, and return to step 2. Upgrading your weapons in this game isn’t just increasing clip sizes and adding scopes and silencers, you become the Dr. Frankenstein of munitions. There are a large assortment of weapons, and once you purchase a new one, you can swap parts with any other similar gun. Stock of an M4, barrel of an AK, body of… some other gun. It all culminates in a series of stats reflecting the guns power. You want an automatic shotgun with a bayonet, a bullet shield, and a gold paintjob? You got it.
With the focus on co-op gameplay, there is the need for somewhat tactical gameplay. Sure you might be able to bust into a room with guns blazing and hope to survive, and this might work for earlier levels. But thanks to the aggro system, you can focus attention while your partner slips behind enemy lines. You can have one character tank while another snipes. There are moments where you and your partner can mock surrender to and surprise enemies. There’s plenty of fun to be had while you and your friend decide how to properly conquer a heavily guarded room.
The game is roughly the same length of modern shooters, but there is plenty of reason to go back and play through again. You can replay segments with your same armament, so if you think you need some better weapons, just go back and play through an early mission for a little extra money. The game is perfect for those who want a game to play with their buddies with a little bit of friendly bickering thrown in. And trust me, there is no such thing as a co-op game without bickering between players. This is just a fun shooter. Emphasis on fun and shooter. Sure it’s missing a few things in the story department, but makes up for it in bullet bliss.
Verdict: If you are not a fan of shooters I can reasonably see passing this game over. But if you want a game that doesn’t care if it isn’t reinventing storytelling and just lets you shoot things with your buddy, go ahead and get it. At the time of this posting, the game should have dropped from its $60 price tag to $40, so if that is low enough for you to buy a good bit of fun, then do it. Otherwise, if you find yourself with a friend and a weekend to waste, go out and rent this game and have some drunken shenanigans.