Bon Cop, Bad Cop
Last Wednesday night, I attended the red carpet gala screening of Érik Canuel’s Bon Cop Bad Cop at the Paramount. This is the film that everyone in the Canadian film industry is praying will work. The thinking behind it seems sound enough: make a buddy action adventure film where a Quebecois heart-throb (Les Boys’ Patrick Huard) is teamed with the Anglo angel of the Stratford sweater set (Colm Feore), make the story line about hockey, cast a midget to play Gary Bettman and blammo—success from the Gaspé to Etobicoke. Think Lethal Weapon meets Two Solitudes.
The French-Canadian film industry puts the Anglo one to shame. They’ve got a well-developed star system and an audience that readily consumes domestic films. English Canada is hampered by so many factors it’s in no position to compete. Thus, Bon Cop Bad Cop takes on significance that extends beyond the successful marriage of cultural satire and action comedy. In a manner of speaking, it’s one healthy industry trying to aid a crippled one.
Bon Cop Bad Cop is doing boffo business in Quebec. Its opening weekend saw it take in $1,433,259 (according to distributor Alliance Atlantis Vivafilm), the largest opening weekend box-office gross ever for a Quebec film. Alliance Atlantis actually claims the flick had the 17th biggest weekend gross in North America (Variety didn’t list it in its top 20, but that’s supposedly because of how Quebec box-office is reported). Whether or not it can sustain this kind of success depends on whether people will go to see the film a second time. The opening numbers owe a lot to the strength of the film’s marketing campaign. According to industry trade magazine, Playback, Huard’s mug was draped across billboards and transit shelters for eight weeks before Bon Cop’s release. The film had television and radio spots going 24/7, as well as a “making of” special on TQS. Over its opening weekend, Bon Cop showed on 132 screens!
In English Canada, the film, which opens this tomorrow, has received a far softer media push. The trailer has received prominent placement at Alliance Atlantis theatres, as well decent circulation on TSN and Sportsnet, but Alliance seems unsure of its product’s success in this unwelcoming market.
Bon Cop Bad Cop begins with a magnificent premise. A dead body lies across the border sign for Quebec and Ontario. Police from both provinces arrive and survey the scene. Martin Ward (Colm Feore), a turtle-necked graduate of Upper Canada College, stands on one side of the border while leather-clad Dennis Bouchard (Patrick Huard), a Quebecois version of Martin Riggs, stands on the other. The corpse’s heart is in Quebec, but his ass belongs to Ontario. And when the two cops climb up on ladders to inspect the body, they end up tearing it in two. All of this sets up a strange, Due South-ish plot, where the pursuit of the criminal competes for attention with the humour springing from the cultural collision. For the most part, the humour is good—Bon Cop has more than enough room for intelligent satire. The only problem is that, in comparison, the action plot is a soggy, meagre thing.
In the early stages, the humour and plot work hand-in-hand. The crime itself is quite funny. Someone’s been targeting people they believe to be responsible for the disappearance of Canadian hockey franchises. The agent for a certain 88, who refused to play for the Quebec “Fleurs-de-Lis” gets a skate in the neck, for example. In hot pursuit of the killer, the twosome end up losing bodies, burning a grow-op to the ground and guesting on Rick Mercer’s pathetic attempt at a Don Cherry-send-up call-in show.
The best scene of the film comes when director Érik Canuel cuts between the murderer’s invasion of Ward’s house and Bouchard and Ward’s sister having sex. As the Ontario cop fights off the intruder, his sister screams out “Vive le Québec Libre” as she reaches orgasm. From that point on though, the comedy slowly fades to the background and the skimpiness of Bon Cop’s plot becomes too obvious to ignore.
An effective action movie (even an action-comedy) needs a good bad guy. Said baddy needs to be both cartoonish and sinister, possessing a monomaniacal vision that we can simultaneously understand and mock. Bon Cop’s baddy is a twerpy, acne-ridden teenager with a voice box. At no point do we understand a thing about him. I guess he’s just your everyman hockey fan or something. But without necessary explication, his crimes come off as senseless. For this reason, the film’s finale, where the action is supposed to trump the satire, is flaccid and ridiculous.
Who knows though? Bon Cop Bad Cop is perhaps the most test audience-driven film in Canadian history. Who knows what the original script may have looked like? Who knows if this was an amazing film castrated by its desire to appeal as broadly as possible?
Either way, let’s hope that at least some of you give this film a chance. When it’s funny, it really is funny. And that humour hits far closer to home than anything you’re likely to see in a similar Hollywood-produced flick. Though the film is so self-consciously Canadian it’s almost pathetic, there’s definitely enough here for the big wigs at last week’s gala to be proud of.
Bon Cop Bad Cop opens Friday, August 18, at the Beach Cinemas, Eglinton Town Centre, Paramount, Varsity Cinemas, Silvercity Yonge, and others