Reno 911!: Miami throws everything from rampant masturbation, ugly sex, bad Scarface impersonations, and dead sperm whales together with the titular Floridian city acting as a passive social blender. Yet for the many ridiculous grenades it lobs (both literally and metaphorically), the film suffers the most from a timid lack of comedic reach. While I am still of the opinion that Borat wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be, Sacha Baron Cohen certainly knew no bounds in his subversive pseudo-docu comedy, striking at our social and physical hangs-ups resiliently, if not deeply. Similarly, this feature-length debut of the popular Comedy Central series employs a stripped-down visual aesthetic and obviously handheld camerawork to simulate a simplistic but unmistakable “you are there, this is real” approach. There’s certainly no lack of volume in the material, but with its typically muted laughs, the resulting effect is one’s yearning for something more audacious.
The police force of Reno—the most unbelievably inept group of law enforcement personnel ever assembled—has been invited to the Police Convention in Miami, Florida (because “they invited everybody”), but instead find themselves the unfortunate victims of a computer error upon arrival, and are subsequently rejected from the ceremonies. Good thing, because when a terrorist attack leaves the entirety of the Miami police force quarantined inside the quarters of the convention hotel, it is up to this band of misfits to patrol the streets and maintain order. Unsurprisingly, they’re hardly able to get out of the police station without wreaking havoc, at one point missing hundreds if 911 calls when the emergency phone board is unplugged to make way for microwave popcorn (if America were to ever suffer another terrorist attack, one imagines that it would most likely happen under their watch).
Like so many films that fall under the label of “college humor,” Reno 911! is tangential in its characters and happenstance, with characters fleeing a man-eating crocodile one moment only to be mistakenly kidnapped by a drug overlord the next. Many of these moments of randomness provide the film with its biggest laughs (when the film thrives, it is entirely on its what-the-fuck spontaneity), but Reno 911! also weighs down its off-the-cuff attitude with seemingly mandatory narrative backbone and half-developed character arcs that ultimately go nowhere (a fact that would be less disheartening if their aimlessness were truly funny). It’s difficult to tell whether or not the presence of a plot itself impedes on the films humor (as opposed to the far more scattershot original series) or if the writing itself is wholly uninspired, but cause notwithstanding, the effect is that of a poorly realized series of comedy sketches that barely connect from one to the next. Without the aid of substances, Reno 911!: Miami is as much in need of laughs as its characters are in need of a collective brain transplant.