I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Cop Car

After seeing SPIDERMAN’S HOMECOMING I wanted to link to my review from director Jon Watts’ great 2015 movie COP CAR, but for the life of me I couldn’t find one. I swore I remembered writing about it, though, so I searched through old notebooks and sure enough I found the handwritten review that I apparently did between THE LAST CIRCUS and CHEERLEADER CAMP. I must’ve been saving it for after Halloween and then forgot about it. So consider this a previously unreleased review from the vault.

COP CAR is an original, expertly crafted thriller that had me from the very start. Which, come to think of it, is a kid saying “Weiner.” Two young boys (James Freedson-Jackson [Jessica Jones] and Hays Wellford [INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE]) have apparently run away from their home in a small farming community in Colorado. They’re walking across a field, playing with sticks, talking about the type of shit that little boys think they know everything about: barb wire fences, snakes, arrowheads. It’s the rare case of movie kids who seem like documentary subjects. They’re not too precocious or romanticized, they’re just dumb boys, like some of us used to be. Not comically dumb, just regular dumb. They do dumb boy stuff. Nobody knows why.

And suddenly they come across something weird – the titleistical vehicle, parked in the middle of nowhere. They react in various stupid ways: paranoid that it’s looking for them. Throwing a rock as a distraction. Daring each other to touch it. Getting inside and pretending to be in a high speed chase.

Then they find the keys.

I think I made it clear, these are not smart kids. And though they have the traditional element of one who’s a little more sensible than the other, he’s not more sensible enough. So they decide “This is our cop car!” and they drive it around the fields.

It’s not a magic car, it had to have come from somewhere, and belonged to someone. That someone is a sheriff played by Kevin Bacon (ELEPHANT WHITE). And the usual thriller way to play it is that he seems like a normal cop innocently trying to get his car back without getting the kids in too much trouble, but then there’s a twist where we find out that actually he’s corrupt and worried it will expose a crime he committed and he will stop at nothing to get it back and now we have a game of cat and two mice on our hands.

Instead of all that, Watts does it in reverse. He first flashes back to show the sheriff parking the car there while he goes to dispose of a handcuffed body (a process he seems very familiar with!) and then, instead of being threatening and scary, or even threateningly-fake-nice, he just acts goofy-fake-nice talking to the kids over the radio. He actually seems harmlessb but we know he’s not – the cards have already been laid out on the table.

The movie also smartly switches to the Sheriff’s P.O.V. long enough to transfer our sympathies – sort of, anyway – to him. He’s a bad man but he’s in a jam (his car is gone!) and he’s very resourceful, very good at problem solving, and it’s mostly visual since he’s by himself. His on-the-fly plans for getting another vehicle, covering up with dispatch and getting a private line of communication to the boys is clever and harrowing enough that I was seduced into rooting for him to pull it off, at least for now, before the kids hopefully outplay him and don’t get murdered.

And the funny thing is that after all this maneuvering, when his plan all works out and he’s able to talk to them, the boys don’t even hear his threats because they’re outside of the car wrapped in crime scene tape playing with his guns that they found inside. Man, I was really squirming. There are so many scenes where the boys flirt with catastrophic gun accidents. They have no sense of gun safety. They can’t figure out how to shoot them, and keep banging them against things and looking down the barrel trying to figure out what’s wrong.

Of course, a little more is revealed about what’s going on, other people get mixed up in it, more people are endangered. It’s simple but very effective. I won’t say much else except that Shea Whigham shows up, and I always like it when Shea Whigham shows up.

I also always like it when Kevin Bacon shows up, because he never phones it in. I’ve said it before, he’s one of these actors I admire because he’s been in plenty of respectable, Oscar-winning movies before (JFK, A FEW GOOD MEN, MYSTIC RIVER, APOLLO 13) but he also has a pretty good eye for interesting roles in indie movies and mid-range genre stuff and when he does it he throws himself into it just like he would the fancy stuff. I’m thinking specifically of DEATH SENTENCE, but let’s not forget WILD THINGS, STIR OF ECHOES, HOLLOW MAN, or SUPER, and now we can add this one to the list. He puts a distinct personal spin on this desperate, scary villain so you can imagine someone else playing it as well.

COP CAR gets tense as hell, but often laugh out loud funny in a dark and deadpan way that reminded me of BLOOD SIMPLE. There are ingenious visual markers to communicate geography and time frame to the audience. There are outstanding performances, especially by the two kids. They hired this director to do the next Spider-man picture, and that actually makes me want to see it. He has chops.

This is a small but almost perfect movie. My one gripe is that after all that I feel like we earned a little more conclusive of an ending. But if the landing is slightly off balance that’s okay, it was worth it for the jump itself.

Watts wrote the script with Christopher Ford (ROBOT & FRANK). These are also the guys who made a trailer for a non-existent Eli Roth movie called CLOWN and then the actual Eli Roth liked it so much that he produced the actual movie for them.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, July 10th, 2017 at 11:09 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

7 Responses to “Cop Car”

  1. This one was on my radar but I ended up deciding to wait for video. Then I never got around to it but by god I had time to watch all eleven PUPPET MASTER movies and the new TRANSFORMERS. You make it sound right up my ally so I’ll have to give it a watch it soon. Hopefully it’s as good as you say and it makes me actually want to bother with the new SPIDER-MAN.

  2. Honestly, I didn’t like it that much. It would’ve been a cool short film, but in its (already pretty short 80 minutes until the credits roll) actual length, it frustrated me a lot. Don’t get me wrong, Bacon is great and the whole stretch from the moment the kids open the trunk until the ending of the shoot out is brillant, but there is too much “dumbass kids act dumber than even the dumb kids of our world would act”, to really make me like it.

    Also again: The dreaded, undeserved open ending. Movies are not songs, you can’t simply fade out at one point, because it’s just lazy. The whole movie is basically “Coen Bros light” and the problem is, that the Coens have the random (semi-)open ending perfected. There are several of their movies, that “just” end and made me go: “Aw, fuck, that’s it? Lame!”, but after a few minutes (or a talk with some other people, on very rare occasion also after a rewatch), I realized that there is no reason to end the story at a later point. And this is something that many filmmakers don’t understand, because they believe “Let the audience make up their own ending” is smart, when they actually stop at a dumb point.

    Anyway, I don’t wanna be hatin’ on that movie too much. There is enough top filmatism in it, to not be too mad at the hype it got.

    Also unless it’s a different Jon Watts, he directed one of my favourite music videos

    Fatboy Slim - Wonderful Night

    This is "Fatboy Slim - Wonderful Night" by Jon Watts on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.

  3. I liked this one. It’s the kind of low-key crime story with some black comedy and sudden violence of which the world has produced a bumper crop in the past few years. I also liked CLOWN and the new SPIDER-MAN movie, despite none of them seeming to bear any resemblance to each other in style or subject matter. We might have a reliable new journeyman on our hands.

    Also, if you ever want to direct a Marvel film, what you need to do is direct a small indie movie where Kevin Bacon plays an asshole. Boosts your chances considerably.

  4. This from the director of the new Spidey? I just came back from it and wasn’t even aware it had a director with a voice. Didn’t seem that way.

  5. CLOWN was okay as a concept – magic evil clown suit becomes fused to wearer, turns family man into child killer, but the execution was really dull. Come to think of it, I just saw SPIDERMAN : TONY’S MOVING DAY, and was wondering how scrawny Parker becomes muscular beefed-up Spiderman when the suit goes on (the Spidey suit has built-in fake muscles that blow up like an inflatable toy). No kid killing though, only kid-rescuing, thankfully.

  6. “but by god I had time to watch all eleven PUPPET MASTER movies and the new TRANSFORMERS”

    Laughing hard right now, thank you geoffrey. A man who knows his priorities.

  7. This is the kind of movie that’s right up my alley. A small budget crime/noir story that perfectly executes its limited premise. I was genuinely impressed with what the film did with three main characters and maybe two tertiary characters. As much as I wish the director luck with Marvel, I also kind of wish that when directors have a critical indie hit, they would at least get a couple of smaller scale movies under their belt before playing around with a couple hundred million dollars.

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