Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon and Niecy Nash don't just play clueless cops on TV (in the bawdy spoof
). No, they also play clueless cops on the big screen. The country's paltriest police department hits the cineplex Friday in
Reno 911!: Miami
On a winter day, the trio show up at the Fraternal Order of Police lodge on Spring Garden Street in uniform, in character, and in mock dudgeon to complain about the way they are depicted in their own film.
The real cops at the lodge handle their mock colleagues gingerly, as if a flock of testy peacocks had wandered in from the street. But the Reno entourage is delighted with the FOP store in the lobby, snapping up all manner of official law enforcement regalia.
"We're going anywhere we can to dispel the lies," says Nash, when the group is finally coaxed upstairs with - what else? - doughnuts. As Deputy Raineesha Williams, she sports lacquered baby curls on her temples and carries enough junk in her trunk to launch a remake of Sanford and Son.
"The picture that was made by the 20th Century Fox people is a bunch of hokum," says Lennon. As Lieutenant Jim Dangle, he's attired in his trademark short-shorts, looking like an escapee from the Village People.
"I hate to use language like that but it's sheer hokum," he continues. "We work very hard to do a tremendous amount of good. There are editing-room floors littered with good that we did."
"Everybody makes mistakes," echoes Garant, who, like the others, refuses to break character during the interview. As country naif Deputy Travis Junior, he's overdressed for the interview in a bulletproof vest. "We make mistakes. We would just like those mistakes not to be 100 percent of the film."
If you've seen their antic Comedy Central series, developed in 2003 as a spoof of COPS, you know you wouldn't want these clowns responding to a distress call if they were the last policemen on earth. Which is pretty much the plot of Reno 911!: Miami, a farce with wild cameos from the Rock, Paul Reubens and others.
When Reno's loopy sheriff's department ships out for a police convention in Florida, a bio-terror alert traps every able-bodied lawman in the country inside the convention center. Only the woefully incompetent Dangle & Company are left on the streets to maintain order.
"I don't think the general population knows that at certain times of the year most of the cops are in one place, be it Vegas or be it South Beach," says Dangle. "It's probably best that you don't know that."
Reno's finest quickly discover that the criminal element in Miami is different from the lawbreakers they are accustomed to.
"In Reno, we got a real, real bad crystal meth problem," says Dangle.
"You'd think that would make them thinner but it don't," Junior adds. "We got a morbidly obese population and the crystal meth don't thin 'em out at all."
"No, it just keeps them up all night and then I guess they order that pizza with the cheese in the crust," says Dangle. "And then they attack each other."
"Miami is much sexier," Junior says.
"And everybody is oily in Miami," Williams observes.
"Handcuffs won't stay on 'em," says Junior.
Not that many arrests are actually made. But why would these deputies involve themselves in a film that holds them up to ridicule?
"When you say, 'Yes, you can do a documentary on me' which was originally supposed to be called Heroes on Patrol, by the way, you sign away your life," Williams reveals. "They follow you everywhere. Sometimes you forget the cameras are there and you end up saying and doing . . ."
". . . horrible, horrible things," continues Dangle.
"And in our defense, can I say if somebody catches you saying or doing horrible things, it does not make you - " Williams pauses, rapidly zigzags her hands for effect, then erupts - "ha! . . . a horrible person. It doesn't."
The trio feel strongly that just because they clip on a badge and holster when they go to work, they shouldn't be held to a higher moral standard.
"It's very unfair," Dangle grouses. "People say, 'You're out there and you're armed and you're supposed to be protecting us from ourselves. So you should be some sort of exemplary role model.' When the fact is, most of us have a high school education at best."
"I know I'm an example," Williams says, "but I tell people, 'Use me as an example of what not to do.' Huh? Huh? I'm not a rap star. I don't play in the NBA. C'mon now. Don't look at me."
"You're not supposed to do what we do," Junior points out. "You're supposed to not do what we tell you not to do."
"We're not your friends," Dangle concurs. "People need to understand this. The police are not your friends. We're your boss. It's different."
Being in a film, they discovered, was quite different from participating in a TV show.
"Certainly I think there is a sensationalism that is truly unflattering, things that would never be shown on television," Dangle says of Reno 911!: Miami. The squad's proclivity for looking for love in all the wrong places earned the film a hard R rating.
"I was unfortunately photographed in - not technically underpants - it's technically a G-string made out of the same material that they make candy necklaces out of.
"It was taken out of context but it was not taken out of the film," he continues. "A lot of these things are had-to-be-theres. If you had been there, you would say, 'Oh, that's not funny. That's a hard-working man who just needed to cut loose.' "
"And put on candy underwear," adds Junior.
"Taken in context, there's nothing weird about it," Dangle insists.
"It was just horseplay," says Junior.
None of the officers are fans of the way police work is depicted in prime-time dramas like CSI and Without a Trace.
"They're endlessly cracking the case," Dangle says bitterly. " 'Oh, look, I found a little DNA on this towel at the scene.' They get the evidence, and every single time they get 'em."
"That just ain't reality," says Junior.
"The fact is, if you commit a murder, you got a 50-50 chance of getting away with it," Dangle says.
"And that's if we even find out about the crime in the first place," adds Junior, "which doesn't happen all that often."
Still, this cracked blue line is hoping their film will have a positive impact.
"I hope that if young people see it, that it dissuades them from a life in crime," Junior says. "And, hopefully, it dissuades them from a life in law enforcement."
Dangle nods in affirmation. "Crime doesn't pay," he says solemnly. "Neither does being a cop. Not really."