Miles On Movies

Reno 911: Miami
The Lives of Others

reviewed by R. Miles Mendenhall

Stupid Cops or Smart Cops?

Stupid Cops

While contemplating going to see Reno 911: Miami I wondered what police
officers think of the Comedy Central show? Do they hate it? Do they hate it
but still laugh and then hate themselves? Since I don’t hang out with
members of the police I have no idea.

I like the show; it parodies “Cops” and is an exercise in slapstick craven
stupidity. It’s Hella funny. And incredibly lowbrow, gross, insulting to
everybody and often hits slow moments where the joke just doesn’t work. This
is also true for the movie version.

Our hapless crew, led by Lt. Jim Dangle* in his signature short shorts, are
invited to Miami for a national police convention. When they arrive their
passes are mislaid (probably intentionally the second the host sets eyes on
them) and they’re barred from entering the convention center where “every
police force in the country” is attending this Cop-Fest. The script begs the
question as to what is going on in the rest of the country while the police
are hobnobbing in Miami.

(* Played by Thomas Lennon, who co-wrote the script with Ben Garant and
Kerri Kenney. Garant plays Deputy Travis Junior. More on Kenney below.)

Soon the convention center is locked down due to a bioterrorist attack and
the only cops left outside are the Reno Sheriffs Department. (There is no
real Reno Sheriffs Department. Not to be confused with the actual Reno
Police Department.)

The only police available are ordered to keep the peace in Miami. What
follows are the usual series of ridiculous contretemps, with a little Miami
/ South Beach flavor thrown into the mix. Yes, placing situational comedy in
a movie makes for some slow moments, but many jokes are Fucking Hilarious!!!

And they do it all: poop, farts, masturbation, voyeurism, romantic
disappointment, racial stereotyping, sexual preference stereotyping, white
trash stereotyping, police stereotyping, moron stereotyping and so on.

Kerry Kenney co-wrote and plays Deputy Trudy Weigel, who puts the ditz in
dumb, Wendi McClendon-Covey plays Deputy Clementine Johnson who puts the hot in hot to trot. Niecy Nash is Deputy Raineesha Williams who puts the bootay
in junk in the trunk. Carlos Alazraqui portrays Deputy James Garcia who puts
the cholo in policia. Mary Birdsong performs as Deputy Cherisha Kimball who
puts the butch in lipstick lesbian. Cedric Yarbourough embodies Deputy S.
Jones who serves as the conscience of this wacky crew.

Danny Devito produced and has a cameo as the District Attorney. (But I seem
to have missed him in the movie. Was his appearance cut?) Paul Rubens cameos
as Terry the skater’s father. And Paul Rudd plays a dumbass drug lord as he
channels Al Pacino’s Tony Montana from “Scarface”, but only the goofy bits.
Patton Oswalt plays Deputy Mayor Jeff Spoder whose menial status hides more
than it first reveals.

Underneath it all lays a humanity and sincerity that makes me forgive them
for insulting my intelligence. Besides, I knew what to expect before going,
and I expected my intelligence to take a pummeling. Meanwhile I was laughing
the whole time at these stupid cops tripping over themselves, each other and
nearly destroying a city. Only to save the day by pure accident. Go to
laugh, not to think.

Smart Cops

(Actors names follow their characters’ name in parentheses.)

On the complete other end of the spectrum we have The Lives of Others the
debut feature film written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.
It deservedly won the ’07 Academy Award for the best Foreign Film. (I was
rooting for Pan’s Labyrinth, now having seen both, it's a tough call.)

Let’s try a little thought experiment.

Suppose you lived in a society in which order and security are maintained by
an elaborate police apparatus. They could eavesdrop, tape, surveil and track
every detail of your daily and intimate life and you will never know until
the harsh knocking at your door. Everyone lives in fear of betrayal.

Suppose also that those on the top of this society use their power to
further their greedy desires. You’re an intellectual and artist named Georg
Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) whose goal is to support this society. You love it
and consider it to be the best in the world, but have begun to see the
caustic effects of its surveillance culture on your friends and mentors.

Sound like 1984?

Post-9/11 America (U.S.)?

It’s East Germany in 1984, with Glasnost and Perestroika nowhere in sight.

Now suppose you’re one of the best Stasi officers in East Germany, Hauptman
Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe, Stasi is the acronym for The State Security
Service, whose motto was, “To Know Everything”), you have no personal life,
your career depends on the approval of those above you, and your job is to
monitor the lives of Dreyman the playwright and his actress girlfriend
Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck.)

You can hear everything that goes on in their apartment; in fact you are
physically close by. (I’ll leave the actual location for you to discover
when you see this film.)

You have been tasked to find out something that can be used against Dreyman.
As you listen to their daily lives you begin to change…. (I know, I’m asking
you to identify with multiple characters at once, but you can do it!)

This is the premise for this great story. As the cat and mouse game between
the various protagonists plays out, the unbearable tension of what could
happen grows and is consistently sustained. The questions of “What is a good
man?” and “What is a good cop?” become central to the resolution of this

Look for the absurd logic justifying lengthy interrogation. Questioning that
uses psychological and physical torture, demonstrated and discussed in an
early classroom scene.

It almost makes detention without habeas corpus and without any right to
representation seem like the best ways to determine guilt or innocence.

In fact the logic is eerily similar to arguments made in the last few years
by President Bush and Attorney’s General Ashcroft and Gonzales.

This is a great film. Hopefully it will make us all think more about the
consequences of the Security Culture that we have allowed to be put into

The source of hope in this story is very tenuous and fragile. We need to do

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