How does a total cinematic disaster come about? We're talking one of those movies that is just so awful you can hardly believe it. I think a lot of bad movies, like Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes, for example, come about by accident. Burton probably started it with the best intentions and then realized at some point -- after it was too late -- that he had a stinker on his hands. So he kind of shut down his brain and continued on autopilot. As a defense mechanism, he probably tried not to think about it too much. But that kind of filmmaking merely results in a bad, dull film. No, I think to make a true disaster you have to have your head in the game. You have to be enthusiastic and committed, like John Travolta on Battlefield Earth.

I would suspect that Kevin Smith did the same on Cop Out. Even if he started to smell something bad during the production of his latest film, he probably kept a big smile on his face and kept on having fun. He might even have been making fun of his own movie as it went along on its merry path to hell. The result is awful, but whether or not it's a true disaster remains to be seen. (There were about three minutes at the beginning where I had my hopes up for a good movie.) However, I'm sure my jaw was hanging on the floor far more often than it was engaged in the act of laughing. Smith directs from a screenplay by Robb Cullen and Mark Cullen, and though he allegedly did some rewrites of his own, this is his first film not based on his own material. The movie has a bunch of pop culture references and toilet jokes, but it's also supposed to be an action and suspense movie, and all these elements collide and collapse like a herd of elephants clunking skulls. New York cops Jimmy (Bruce Willis) and Paul (Tracy Morgan) have been partners for nine years; it's up to the characters to mention this fact out loud because otherwise we'd never be able to tell. They appear to have absolutely no experience or even knowledge of how to be cops. Moreover, they have no chemistry together and don't appear to trust or even like one another. Paul is perpetually annoying and Jimmy is perpetually annoyed.

After accidentally getting a stool pigeon killed and letting the shooter go, the cops are suspended without pay. This is bad news for Jimmy, who hopes to bankroll his daughter's wedding. (Though how he was hoping to get $48,000 on one month's paycheck is another mystery.) So Jimmy decides to sell his rare, mint-condition Andy Pafko baseball card, but before he can do that, the card is stolen. The thief (Seann William Scott), who practices some clumsy-looking parkour, sells it to a Latino drug lord. The drug lord (Guillermo Diaz) also happens to be the brother of the aforementioned shooter. Jimmy and Paul then agree to recover the drug lord's stolen car in exchange for the card, but in the trunk of the car is more trouble, and more idiotic "twists" that drag the movie out to a painful 110 minutes. I'm not sure if an irritating, thump-and-ping Harold Faltermeyer-type score (by Faltermeyer himself) is supposed to be funny, or make us think of Beverly Hills Cop. Or maybe it was just a temp track that somebody forgot to remove.

To make matters worse, the movie tries to milk several jokes out of Paul's jealousy toward his cute wife (Rashida Jones). He thinks she's having an affair and keeps obsessing over it, to the further annoyance of his partner. It's possible to make just about anything funny, but the humor that comes out of this subplot is really just cruel and disturbing. Other unfunny characters turn up, like Kevin Pollak and Adam Brody as a pair of rival cops who are constantly trying and failing to say funny things about boots and cheese. Jason Lee plays Jimmy's smarmy ex-wife's new husband, and poor, adorable Michelle Trachtenberg has nothing to do but jump up and down and tell her daddy how excited she is about her wedding. Scott probably comes out the best, but only because his character is supposed to be deliberately annoying, using the time-honored gimmick of parroting other characters as they speak. (Alternately, Morgan's character is supposed to be endearing, but is actually annoying.)

Smith shoots his action scenes like a rank amateur, and they're so jerky and junky it looks like he's about to jump out from behind the camera and say, "just kidding!" Willis -- who appeared onscreen with Smith in Live Free or Die Hard -- looks either bewildered or lethargic throughout, but in one scene, he literally looks like he's about to fall asleep while pointing a gun at bad guy. I honestly thought there would be a payoff or an explanation for this, but there just isn't. The whole movie goes south within the first ten minutes as Paul goes to interrogate the stool pigeon; the joke is that he's no good at it because he simply repeats movie lines. He goes in and starts doing dialogue from cop movies, but keeps going with dialogue from totally inappropriate movies (The Color Purple?) and keeps going, and going, and going, quoting well over a dozen lines. The joke is barely funny at all, but keeping it going for several minutes is just deadly.

The rest goes on in much the same way. Unfortunately, a comedy disaster like this one is far less fun than a drama -- like Willis' own Color of Night -- or a sci-fi turkey like Battlefield Earth. A disaster drama can be funny, but a disaster comedy is not. The main reaction to something like Cop Out is not laughter, but the question: "what could they have been thinking?" Fortunately, Smith -- with his copious blogging and live stage appearances -- is one guy who may eventually open up and talk about this subject (as he did on his earlier flops Mallrats and Jersey Girl). That will be something to experience. Cop Out is not.