Sportsflicks: Bon Cop Bad Cop, or Call the Hockey Cops

In which francophone and anglophone Canadian cops work together to catch a killer and hate Gary Bettman
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For a movie that moves so freely between two languages, no simple sentence can describe the hockey-steeped 2006 Canadian buddy cop movie Bon Cop, Bad Cop.  That sentence, however, would contain a lot of English and Quebecois profanity if we were to attempt it. It would include the word “hockey,” and also the word “confounding.”

Patrick Huard and Colm Feore star as police officers for the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, respectively. Huard, as David Bouchard, is the badass detective who doesn’t give a merde about anything west of the Quebec/Ontario border. Unfortunately, that is exactly where the first body turns up, which leads to a pretty novel (if cringe-worthy) sight gag. Feore’s character, Martin Ward, is a low-key officer in the Ontario Provincial Police who thinks he’s much cooler than he is. He doesn’t make a “You down with O.P.P.” joke, but it would not necessarily be surprising if he did. Feore, who played a different sort of Canadian icon in Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, here embodies basically all the usual stereotypes about members Ontario Provincial Police, presuming that such stereotypes exist. Anyway, the movie is mostly about hockey. And murders.

There are so, so many in-jokes involving the NHL that half the fun (and there is some fun in it) is in figuring out which victim or potential victim is based on what figurehead, and what incident spurred what motive for “The Tattoo Killer.” For instance, Peter Pocklington, the owner of the Edmonton Oilers who sold Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings, is mockingly (and only just barely) renamed “Pickleton;” the controversy surrounding the Quebec Nordiques’ move to Colorado is the motive behind more than one murder. Folks looking for the comeuppance that commissioner “Harry Buttman” deserves will be disappointed, but (spoiler alert) the climax does at least present a fate worse than death: being the guy who moved a hockey team from Montreal to Houston.

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While Bon Cop, Bad Cop is a bilingual movie and was marketed as such, the film’s allegiances are easy to discern. Quebec is a cooler place to be, even though half the province’s residents are trying to kill Ward and Bouchard. Ontario, and pretty much all of anglophone Canada, are presented as dull, and Toronto’s straight-laced white bread stereotype is played to the hilt by straight man Feore. There is gentle enmity between the two sides, but they share a common, if characteristically gentle, disdain for The Red White And Blue Menace. America, that is, not the Montreal Canadiens.

Rick Mercer, Canada’s answer to Jon Stewart, plays a parody of Don Cherry, who is in turn Canada’s answer to that guy in the bar who hates anything and anyone unlike him, and also that guy in the bar is wearing a suit that would give Craig Sager pause. Appropriately, a man who does not seem to be any taller than 4’8” plays the Gary Bettman role.

While Bon Cop, Bad Cop takes its cues from many action films, it feels more like a Hot Fuzz-ian homage than an out-and-out ripoff. To the extent that this feels strange, it’s because few films have seen fit to pay loving homage to Sudden Death or The Last Boy Scout. No helicopters crash into a hockey arena, although as in Sudden Death, there is a kidnapping mascot.  A doped-out Billy Blanks doesn’t shoot his way into the end zone, as in The Last Boy Scout, but there is a similarity in that things spontaneously explode in both. There’s also a scene where a pot lab is set on fire, and our heroes wind up blazed. The people behind Pineapple Express must’ve watched Bon Cop, Bad Cop while high, and forgot where they got that idea from. It’s perfectly understandable.  

Canadian films about hockey by and large “mean” something more than American hockey films. And so it’s both strange and not so strange that Powers Boothe kidnapping the Vice President of the United States during the Stanley Cup in Sudden Death seems somehow less significant and weighty than its parallel moment here, when a petulant bilingual sports nerd and a drug-dabbling ex-hockey player try to kidnap the Dick Cheney of sports executives. In a way, the ending to Bon Cop, Bad Cop disappoints, because the only thing resembling justice for such an incompetent commissioner is scaring the crap out of him. However, this is secondary to the understanding that Anglo-Canadians and French-Canadians reach through interacting with each other and solving a string of hockey-related murders. See, sports do bring cultures together. Maybe that’s the message, even more than Gary Bettman being a butt, man.

Quebec-centricity is vital to Bon Cop, Bad Cop, but does not tell the whole tale of the NHL’s southward march.  While there is a brief mention of the loss of Winnipeg’s team, there is no mention of Minnesota and Hartford, whose teams suffered a similar fate in the 1990’s. It is Canadians’ and Americans’ right to frame hockey as they see fit, of course; much as Canada fondly remembers the 1972 Summit Series and Americans lionize 1980’s Miracle On Ice. The film whitewashes Canadian teams’ dominance in the Stanley Cup during the 1980’s, before their current 20-year drought, but of course it does.

Hockey and cultural identity are pretty thoroughly intertwined in Canada. Why else would their currency quote Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater, or Atom Egoyan direct a TV movie about Brian “Spinner” Spencer? While Bon Cop, Bad Cop doesn’t quite join Porky’s and the far-superior Goon in the pantheon of Canadian film, it is still one of Canada’s most popular films in recent years. It may take years before it is fully appreciated in the English-speaking provinces, and may never be anything more than a cult item in the United States, but Bon Cop, Bad Cop deserves a wider stateside audience, if only because I want a sequel in which the partners team up with a Russian cop, Red Heat-style, to save Alex Ovechkin.


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