Bon Cop, Bad Cop

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A Canadian take on the old cop buddy movie genre raises questions about the relationship of language and race.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop

Reviewed by Jonathan Sterne

Saturday, 5 August 2006, 12:01pm

I am not a fan of seeing movie on opening night, when I can go any other night and experience less of a crowd. But if I had to pick one movie to experience on opening night in Montreal, it would have to be this one: a bilingual action-comedy that pairs a straight-laced Ontario cop with a wild-and-crazy Quebec cop. If it sounds formulaic and stereotypical, that's because it is.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop is a quintessentially Canadian movie, and as such, is unlikely to gain much traction south of the 49th parallel. Which is ironic given its heavy traffic with Hollywood idioms. This kind of cop/buddy store story has always had class and racial overtones in Hollywood movies -- even when they were inverted in the Lethal Weapon films -- and Bon Cop, Bad Cop rarely misses a chance to stereotype any of its characters. But in the process, it also does an excellent job of making fun of them. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is the only action movie I have ever seen where the action sequences were terrible, the plot was contrived and the dialogue made it all worthwhile. The jokes are fast and cheap, and the scenarios preposterous. But there is something really funny about watching a stoned Colm Feore trying to explain in French why he entered a house without a warrant.

Still, I expected to write something about how the discourse of language plays the same morphological part in Canadian culture that the discourse of race (and to a lesser part class) plays south of the border. And one can certainly see that in the wholesale importation of Hollywood buddy movie style. English-French in this film works like White-Black in a Chris Rock film. It domesticates social tension through humor, but also tenderly -- and I do mean with a very light touch -- criticizes prejudice. I liked it for its familiarity, but it makes me uncomfortable because I wonder what happens to race if language simply takes its place in the political imagination.

Of course, I'm part of the problem, at least for now. I had to go see the movie in the Anglophone theater where it was most likely that there would be subtitles. Even that was part of the joke. As the two cops walk out of a meeting with a fast-talking-slang-slinging Quebecois coroner, Feore's character says to Huard "he spoke so fast I only got half of what he said." "So did I," replies Huard. And I couldn't help but notice that there were a few moments when the subtitles seemed different than the French being spoken on the screen. When the DVD comes out, I intend to carefully study the sequence on cursing. In the meantime, I'll have to wonder whether the audience I saw it with laughed in the same places as the audiences in other theaters around town during last night's premiere, or whether even with a binlingual movie, it's still more of "the two solitudes."

Movie website here

Jonathan Sterne is a Bad Subjects editor and teaches at McGill University.

Copyright © 2006 Jonathan Sterne. All rights reserved.

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