By Julia Emmanuele, Hollywood Staff
Neighbors has yet to hit theaters, but director Nicholas Stoller and star Seth Rogen are already planning their next collaboration. In a conversation with SlashFilm, Stoller revealed that he's working on a 1940s-set buddy cop comedy to star Rogen and the busiest man in comedy, Kevin Hart, as the first interracial police partners in history. The film will follow the two cops as they learn to deal with one another and bust jazz musicians for marijuana possession. The director further described the project as kind of a Baz Luhrmann world mixed with Tarantino, which we're interpreting to mean a spectacular period piece with plenty of gore.
Both Rogen and Hart are ideal choices for the film, as they already have experience upholding the law (Rogen teamed up with Bill Hader in 2007's Superbad, while Hart's partner in this year's Ride Along was Ice Cube) and they're both proven box office draws, having starred in some of the biggest comedies of the last decade. However, pairing the two up for this film is something of a surprise, as neither one of them is known for playing the straight man. Can a buddy comedy even work without a straight man?
After all, buddy cop films all tend to follow a strict formula: one cop is the well-mannered and straight-laced decorated officer, tasked with following the rules and keeping his partner in line. The other is the wild card, prone to bouts of violence or hysteria, and likely to shoot first and ask questions later. It's what makes Murtaugh and Riggs work so well together, what makes Ashburn and Mullins so funny, what makes the idea of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg starring in a film together plausible. There's a reason that good cop/bad cop has become such a well-known pop culture trope.
The buddy cop formula works because the structure of their relationship allows the writers and actors to go crazy, and find the humor in the way these two opposites deal with each other. We know that by the end of the film, the straight man will have loosened up and the wild card will have learned to play by the rules, but watching them get there is where the fun happens. But since neither Rogen nor Hart is known for being a straight man, it means this project upends the dynamic that we've all become so familiar with.
Rogen and Hart have each developed a shtick that makes them instantly recognizable onscreen. Rogen is the laid-back, lazy stoner who would rather play video games than actually get work done and Hart is the loud-mouthed, wannabe alpha dog, prone to letting his ego get him into trouble. Each character needs someone to balance him out and keep the plot moving. They're both characters that are best handled with moderation, there to deliver plenty of jokes, but capable of being reeled in when it becomes too much to handle.
However, their characters are different enough from each other that their dynamic might not need a straight man to proceed. They're already opposites: Hart is hyper, high-strung, and fast-talking, where Rogen is laid-back, unfazed by everything and constantly mumbling. And so the film would still be able to mine their differences for jokes. If the script plays up Hart's predilection to dive headfirst into scenarios against Rogen's unwillingness to get off the sofa, it could help lay the groundwork for a central conflict. But the threat of their shtick overstaying its welcome still looms over the film, without a straight man to help balance things out. Even 21 Jump Street, which allows both Jenko and Schmidt to go wild and be incredibly weird brings at least one of them back to the center from tiem to time, in order to keep the film on track.
Most likely, Rogen will take on the role, and the script will make some callbacks to his stoner persona. He's played a similar role in films like Pinapple Express and Funny People, where he's been the more reserved half of a comedy duo, and since he's also got a few more dramatic roles under his belt, he should be able to tap into his more serious side pretty easily. Rogen's typical character is also much closer to the realm of a straight man than Hart's is, as the latter has almost always played a wild-card role onscreen. And since his recent Saturday Night Live stint often had him ground many of the sketches, it seems as if Rogen is warming up for a big screen run as the straight man.
As to whether anyone will actually buy Rogen as a buttoned-up, by-the-book cop? Well, we'll just have to wait and see.