Tuesday, August 11, 2015

COP CAR Delivers Pulpy Awesomeness With a Side of Bacon

COP CAR Review:

- In the last few years, we've seen a string of modern-day, retro-styled grindhouse films that provide self-aware B-movie enjoyment. On the heels of movies like last year's Blue Ruin and The Guest, COP CAR is an awesome example of extreme cinema done right. It's got a fantastic central performance from Kevin Bacon as an unhinged, crooked cop. Its kid actors are surprisingly great. And it 100% delivers in terms of providing a tension-packed thriller designed to shock and entertain. If you're jonesing for some B-movie awesomeness, COP CAR is a total must-watch.

The film follows two ten-year-old boys - Travis and Harrison - who have run away from their homes and are now walking the open road in small-town America, somewhere in the barren, rocky plains of the northwest. Harrison is the quieter, more tentative one. Travis is the brattier one who eggs his friend on at every turn. Eventually, the two walk into the woods and discover an abandoned cop car. Being ten-year-old boys, they decide to take it for a joy ride. But what they don't know is that the car belongs to Bacon's tough-customer cop, Sheriff Kretzer - a guy who's got a lot of buried secrets. One of those secrets is locked up in the car's trunk. Soon, the boys find themselves in the middle of a deadly fetch-quest, as the Sheriff doggedly pursues them so as to get his car back.

Director Joe Watts really kills it here. Soon after the release of COP CAR, he was tapped as the director of the new Spider-Man movie - and you can see why. Working on a low budget, Watts positively packs this movie with tension you can cut with a knife. There is a fantastic scene where Bacon's Sheriff is trying to open a locked door with his looped shoelace. Watts uses a long take and just has you on the edge of your seat, wondering if Bacon will be able to hook the door lock with his makeshift rope. It's that kind of stuff that makes it clear that Watts is the real deal. I also love how he handles the kids in this movie - Travis and Harrison seem like real boys, which means that they are alternately funny, smart, dumb, and at times downright scary. I found myself cringing as they toyed with guns and knives and other weapons found in the cop car - wanting to scream out at their recklessness. Even the film's opening - with the two trying to top each other in a game of "how-many-curse-words-do-you-know?" is both funny and authentic-seeming.

Like I said, Bacon kills it. The mustache, the aviator glasses, the Texas accent - his drug-addled, screw-loose, ultra-intense cop is an instantly iconic cinematic creation. He alternates between preternatural calm and fits of rage, and he deals with the boys with a mix of bemusement and frustration. But what really raises the stakes is when Shea Wigham enters the picture as a criminal who's got a major beef with the Sheriff. Wigham - so great on shows like Boardwalk Empire - is pitch-perfect as a loose-cannon with an axe to grind. The kid actors are also really good - again, authentic is the word I would use to describe their performance.

To say too much about COP CAR is to spoil it - but that's what's so fun about this genre of film. I love movies that don't seem to follow any regular convention and just go for broke. And I love films that carry on the tradition of guys like John Carpenter, who created these cinematic experiences that were just brimming with atmosphere and tension and a palpable sense of danger and menace. COP CAR is over-the-top enough that it works great as a midnight movie, but it's also serious enough to feel like it's got real stakes and real emotional investment in the characters. Interestingly, I also think there's a lot going on beneath the surface here. There's a lot you can unpack from the film, in terms of what it's saying about manhood, about role models, about a harsh world that turns innocent boys into emotionally-scarred and violent men. I love that this movie has that element of thematic intelligence and depth - it works on a lot of different levels.

COP CAR is a small but hugely-effective thriller, and it marks a major debut from director Joe Watts. A must-watch for fans of badass cinema.

My Grade: A-

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