Silly cops have been a staple of comedy since Shakespeare created the character of Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. They’ve been a staple of movie comedy from the Keystone Kops of the silent era through the Police Academy and The Naked Gun series and Super Troopers. There’s something enticing and reassuring about taking the police — the source of so many of our fears about powerlessness and shame — and making them into subjects for humor by exposing them as foolish, incompetent, and utterly humiliated.
And that brings us to the popular television series Reno 911, now a movie. True to form, it is the story of a group of bumbling, egotistical, petty, foolish, cowardly cops who triumph despite their own best — or worst — efforts.
The Reno sheriff’s department gets invited to a law enforcement convention in Miami, and when everyone there is quarantined due to a biohazard attack, they are assigned to handle 911 calls and other police responsibilities until an antidote is found. They have to deal with an alligator in a swimming pool and a beached whale on a topless beach, with the expected results. Bright spots include cameos from the Rock as a SWAT commander and Paul Rudd as a Scarface-style drug lord.
Fans of the television series will feel right at home, but the movie does not make much of an effort to introduce newcomers to the characters and situations. The movie derives much of its plot, energy, and humor from casual references to outrageous events and behavior (“Reno’s just like Mayberry on TV except for the crystal meth and prostitution”), from unrequited (and occasionally but briefly and awkwardly requited) romantic and sexual feelings between and among the cast, from a combination of preening self-regard, utter cluelessness, and insecure anxiety of its characters, and good old-fashioned slapstick. And it just manages to get by on its unpretentious silliness and, most important, its speedy running time.
Parents should know that this is a very raunchy and intentionally offensive comedy with extremely crude humor. Characters use strong and vulgar language, including the n-word, and there are explicit and graphic sexual references and situations, including nudity. There is drug humor, including an overdose, and comic violence with humans and animals injured and killed. Although the television series was given an award by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, some viewers may find the jokes about homosexuality to be offensive.
Families who see this movie should talk about how the portrayal of comic cops has changed over the centuries and what has stayed the same.