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Dark Days for Canadian Film

Bad scripts + coddling critics = crap culture.

Steve Burgess 25 Aug

Steve Burgess is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

He writes the Please Advise! column and other effluvia as required. He is a former CBC host and author of the 2011 book Who Killed Mom? from Greystone Books. He has won two National Magazine Awards and three Western Magazine Awards.

Raised on the Canadian Prairies, he has lived in Vancouver since 1988. Find him on Twitter @steveburgess1.

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Bon Cop, Bad Cop: lousy movie.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop, the bilingual buddy-cop flick about les flics, has been out for a week now. Which means that anyone inclined to see it has already done so. Word-of-mouth should kill off the rest of the box office because frankly, the movie sucked like a broken 747 window at 35,000 feet. That's how the movie universe is supposed to work.

Except that Bon Cop, Bad Cop got some very favourable reviews. Kind, even enthusiastic notices popped up in the local papers, the Globe & Mail, National Post and Toronto Star. Because Bon Cop, Bad Cop is no ordinary crappy movie. It's a Canadian crappy movie.

It is a sad truth that Canadian reviews of Canadian movies must be adjusted for inflation. Boosterism, the desire to promote Canadian films, and the critics' fear that they might just meet the film's principals on the party circuit combine to add bonus points to every domestic review. Knock off at least one-and-a-half stars to gain an accurate representation.

Grant-driven flicks

Bon Cop, Bad Cop is a particularly egregious example. Three stars out of four from Peter Howell in the Toronto Star; three stars from Stephen Cole in the Globe & Mail. Opinions differ, and it is hard to accuse people of intellectual dishonesty simply because they disagree with you. But like hometown announcers describing a lousy player on their own team, these reviews reek of condescension. And I find it very hard to believe that Bon Cop, Bad Cop would not have been properly savaged had it come from some other nation's film industry.

Not that it could have. Bon Cop, Bad Cop comes off like something that was created explicitly to gain a government grant. The screenplay appears to have been written with the proviso that every Canadian reference would be worth $5,000. If so the filmmakers would be multi-millionaires. The mission statement was clearly "Lethal Weapon meets Two Solitudes," as a French and a Canadian cop (Patrick Huard and Colm Feore) square off, snarl, battle and find the inevitable buddy-buddy common ground while solving a crime. In service of this goal, Bon Cop, Bad Cop piles every Canadian cliché imaginable onto every cinematic cliché ever committed. The Plains of Abraham, hockey, the Quebec license plate slogan, hockey, Quebecois profanity, the Governor-General, cheap anti-Americanism, hockey, and on and on. A woman achieves sexual satisfaction while moaning "Vive le Quebec Libre." An evil hockey commissioner is a runty guy named "Buttman." It's the kind of movie where you think, "Why not just throw in a giant beaver?' And voila -- comes the giant beaver in a mascot suit.

Two-thirds of the way through the movie, we take a right turn at lame and head south toward cringing embarrassment. The big crime involves hockey (of course), and centres around the selling of the Quebec Nordiques to Colorado (team and league names changed to avoid richly-deserved lawsuits). In a video conference call the evil Buttman conspires with a loudmouth Texan who will be buying the team. "Ah'm gonna make hockey as Texan as a fat American steak!" yowls Mr. Bad American. "None of this Canadian poison!"

And the two men laugh evilly.

Are we that easy?

If you set out to create a parody of bad Canadian entertainment, you couldn't do much better than Bon Cop, Bad Cop. And when you strip away all the painfully laboured Canadiana you are left with a movie that would have looked like a third-rate knock-off had it appeared 25 years ago. Back then it could have been a pioneer in the straight-to-video industry. Today it simply stands as an indictment of Canadian film.

Unless you believe that clichés and bad performances are part of the movie's je ne c'est quoi charm. The Globe and Mail's Stephen Cole did, apparently. To wit: "The film wins us over in an early scene lifted from the 1982 movie '48 Hours.'"

Really? A barroom scene clearly stolen from an Eddie Murphy showcase moment in Walter Hill's far superior film, recreated here 24 years later with none of the same skill or charm, somehow "wins us over?" Apparently we are cheap sluts.

Then there are the inevitable Angry Police Captain sequences, in which our heroes are berated as rogue cops. In playing Captain Le Boeuf, actor Pierre Lebeau has opted to model his performance on that of Herbert Lom from the Pink Panther movies -- the old twitching, eye-popping, I'm-about-to-go-stark-raving-nuts routine. Hackneyed scenery-chewing? Maybe. But don't miss the good part. "[The scene is] a cop-buddy movie cliché made entertaining by Le Boeuf's haircut," Cole insists.

Ah, yes. It's the thespian's secret weapon. Philip Seymour Hoffman's Capote, Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice, Laurence Olivier's Hamlet -- pretty much all hair.

Protection racket

My reaction to Bon Cop, Bad Cop was something akin to shame and disgust. Is this truly the state of Canadian culture -- a movie that seems to be a two-hour extension of that old "I am Canadian" beer commercial? With so few Canadian movies getting wide distribution, is this really the best we can do? If so, let us never again complain of the sludge we get from Hollywood. We deserve to be overrun with the crap of other nations.

I understand that others can honestly disagree. But I believe there is more than simple disagreement going on here. The double standard Canadian critics use for Canadian films does no favours to the industry it attempts to coddle. More importantly, it abrogates the implied contract between critic and reader -- namely, that the critic will attempt to protect the reader from wasting money on admission and overpriced popcorn just to see two hours of amateur-hour garbage. If it's not too late, let me do that now. Go to the PNE. Do a puzzle. Watch CNN's 24-hour coverage of the JonBenet Ramsey case. Anything but Bon Cop, Bad Cop.

But I'll bet you figured that out last week.

Steve Burgess reviews films for The Tyee every other week, alternating with Dorothy Woodend, and writes about other matters for The Tyee as well. To read his previous pieces go here.  [Tyee]

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