Dope Cops: The Best Film You’ve Never Seen

5/17/13

Dope Cops

Director/Producer: Christopher Fagot

Written by: Jeff Griggs, Paul Simpson, Christopher Fagot

Watch it at: http://vimeo.com/4406690

Few films are watchable when they’re scratchy, often out of focus, and analog. Yet there’s this one comedy I saw one time… I was in college, it was 1998, and the film was called Dope Cops. It was a local production by an outfit called Spaceball Entertainment. I had met most of the cast before. We all lived in the same small town and attended the university there. Director Chris Fagot and I had mutual friends but I had never met him. Paul Simpson lived in my dorm. It’s trippy to see people you’ve actually met onscreen. Especially when what they’re doing is brilliant. You know you won’t have to face that all-too-common moment of embarrassment when you’re called upon to tell them- in your honest opinion- what you think of their work.

I found out about this film quite by accident. I somehow ended up at its premiere. This was held at a (sadly now defunct) Athens, GA club called Tasty World. It was a big event for such a small town and such a small club; some bands also played and other mayhem ensued. I was instantly hooked. I’d never seen anything like it. Local films by local filmmakers and actors were rare at that time and place. So was comedy. Athens was mainly about music, and about being icy cool at all times.

Even in that age before YouTube, I had the opportunity to watch Dope Cops again and again because I was one of the lucky people to obtain a free VHS copy after the premiere. I think there were, like, two of us. They guy who handed me the tape assessed me carefully before letting me have it. He was holding it up, addressing the crowd that was milling about after the event, telling whoever happened to hear him that it was up for grabs. His offer was almost an afterthought; I don’t remember anyone else handing out free copies during the screening. I held out my hand, then gently gripped the tape. He held fast to it for a moment, assessing me for coolness and cred, I assume. I had neither; I was just a college student with relatively decent taste in films.

Plot and acting prowess carry this film. It’s written by Jeff Griggs, Paul Simpson (credited as Saul Pimpson) and Christopher Fagot (credited as Crazy DJ C Breez). All three of them act in the film, each giving a really strong and hilarious performance. Paul Simpson and Scott Recchia are the two leads. It’s a good choice of actors. I always like it when the writers also star. It gives more sincerity to the performances.This film introduces what I like to call “loose-limbed comedy.” What a breath of fresh air. It’s the opposite of slapstick, yet works well alongside it.

The basic premise is that it’s a film about a day in the life of two dirty cops who are desperately trying to be “good.” Scott Recchia plays officer Tony Green and Paul Simpson plays his partner P.P. Simmons. Great choice of names; “Green” works well for a Cheech and Chong-esque “weed comedy” and “P.P.” appeals to the juvenile sense of humor in us all. Not to mention the bonus hilarity in the way Recchia often draws out “Peeee Peeee” in a wheedling, syrupy way when addressing Simpson.

I like how the lighting and the general mood change with each scene, especially when you go from a group shot to a closeup monologue. The changes in camera angle work well with the monologues, too. It makes the grainy quality of the video easier to digest. The writers create a hysterical new entry into the urban slang dictionary when they say: “no one has ever O-weed” as in “no one has ever OD’d on weed.” And speaking of overdosing on weed, this is another of the fantastical plot elements that make the film so inventive.

The film’s score is written by The Saul Pimpson Rock-a-Delic Mack, the brainchild of writer/actor Paul Simpson. Using music written by cast members is a really smart thing. Should the film achieve commercial success, no outside acts will be able to sue later. This shows talent on multiple levels. Most members of the cast have a background in music. Scott Recchia is the man with the background in college drama. I knew him as the writer/lead actor of a great comedic play called The Pool Party. Although a student production shown in a tiny theatre on campus, it was quite impressive. At that time it seemed he had his hand in all the big projects going on in the UGA drama department. Director Chris Fagot’s reputation preceded him; he was the film wunderkind from Los Angeles. Everyone raved about his work and how professional and funny it was. I am not sure how these diverse elements converged; these were different people from Scott’s regular comedy performance group. Then again, how well they knew each other in the real world doesn’t matter; the work they did together is brilliant.

Scott Recchia’s earnestness is what makes him so funny. His crying and supplications to P.P. are melodramatic, overplayed… and therein lies the reason they work so well. His tears actually seem sincere, at the same time causing you to laugh your ass off involuntarily. Out of all the film’s strong performances, Recchia’s is my favorite.

Paul Simpson’s strength lies in the fact that he seems as calm as a yogi at all times, and it’s often unclear whether he’s kidding or serious. He has great sleight of hand. He gets jokes by you and you don’t realize until a beat later the hilarity of what he said; that’s how understated his humor is. Simpson acts with an unselfconscious ease. His comedic style  is where I get the term “loose-limbed.” Recchia’s style is more slapstick. These polar opposites balance each other perfectly. These two actors really know how to play off each other.

The action is punctuated with documentary style interviews with coworkers of the two main characters. The camera operator is neither seen nor heard. The topic is P.P. Simmons and Tony Green. What kind of cops are they? Good or bad? Everyone they know, including them, has their own answers to this question. The general consensus is that Tony and P.P. are troublemakers; loose cannons. Their actions in the film prove this to be true.

The camera goes out of focus during the interviews with Tony and P.P. However, this is okay because it’s more about what’s being said than what’s on the screen. P.P.’s voice is easily distinguishable from Tony’s, so you could actually close your eyes and these scenes would still make sense.

At times the onscreen audience participation is a hindrance; at other times a help. I think the bar scene would have been more effective had it been filmed in an empty bar or even on a set, with extras talking softly in the background to mimic the sounds of a bar. This way no ambient sounds could drown out the dialog. A scene where the audience really helps to make things work is the street dancing/drumming scene involving several street musicians, a small crowd being respectfully quiet, and P.P. and Tony doing a herky jerk dance to the music. I especially like Recchia’s stiff and grimacing style of dancing. Then we see them dancing again at a random time and place, for no obvious reason other than Tony suggesting they do it. These physical comedy scenes between P.P. and Tony are a nice touch; it’s an abrupt change of focus from the normal dialog and it works.

I like to break the film into 3 parts. What I call Part 1 is plot-driven, whereas Part 2 is a collection of esoteric, abstract and surreal scenes which often have nothing to do with the plot. Part 3 (also known as “Part 7: The End”) consists of one short scene, serving as a continuation of Part 1. The scenes in Part 2 are mostly long shots with little or no dialog; in fact the sound is almost nonexistent. Sometimes you hear what might be the sound of wind blowing against a window. It’s quite disconcerting, probably on purpose.This extra stuff that occurs between parts 1 & 3- while interesting- should probably be cut out and made into another separate project or projects. Except for the scene when that old guy says “sun yuns sen suns?”- now that’s funny. I think that this “looking for Funyuns” scene should be kept, maybe as a segway between parts 1 & 2. I find it inventive and funny that Fagot prefaces the final scene with text onscreen which reads “Part 7: The End.” In a great many ways, this explains and justifies the esoteric and often unrelated scenes that make up what I call Part 2.

The ending is great; it solidifies the ‘almost’ sexual tension between Tony & P.P. Tony’s concern that Funyuns are more harmful to consume than weed, to the extent that he treats P.P.’s love of Funyuns like a drug addiction… now that’s just priceless. Zooming in on P.P’s face as he eats his favorite addictive substance works really well for a final scene. Full frontal male nudity also adds to the sexual tension, and it’s also quite a surprise. Normally this kind of thing occurs somewhere in the middle, or at the beginning if the director is really adventurous. And normally it means that sex is about to happen; whereas these two are just hanging out together. No pun intended.

I have approached director Chris Fagot via email about reshooting this film. He says he probably won’t. However, I’d love to see this group of actors and writers reunite and create some new material. In my humble opinion, they (and this film) have the potential to go places.

Dope Cops is definitely a diamond in the rough, and well worth watching.

Watch it at: http://vimeo.com/4406690

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