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COP CAR (review)

Review by Sharon Knolle
Produced by Cody Ryder, Alicia Van Couvering,
Sam Bisbee, Andrew Kortschak, Jon Watts
Written by Jon Watts, Christopher Ford
Directed by Jon Watts
Starring Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, 
Hays Wellford, Camryn Manheim, Shea Whigham

Cop Car gets maximum mileage out of this simple premise: Two boys take an abandoned police car for a joyride.

Director and cowriter Watts (who based the story on a recurring dream he had as a child) was inspired by the Coen Brothers’ first film, Blood Simple, and he hits the mark squarely in that darkly funny, brutal territory.

Clocking in at a brisk 86 minutes, the films begins with two 10-year-old boys – Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford), who’ve run away from home. As they traverse the empty fields of a desolate-looking Colorado Springs, they swear and poke sticks into a snake hole, delighting in all things they shouldn’t be doing. 

Their small rebellions grow monumentally bigger when they stumble on a police car parked in the middle of nowhere. Once they realize there’s no policeman in sight, they dare each other just to touch the car; soon they’re playing driver in the front seat and when they discover the car keys, they can’t resist taking it for a ride.

Of course, they have no idea what they’ve set in motion.

That’s when we flashback to how the car ended up there: Crooked Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon, sporting a brilliantly perverse mustache) is there to dispose of evidence of his illegal activities. He’s halfway through when he discovers the car is gone. Of course he can’t simply report it missing, but he’s soon on the trail of the boys, frantically trying to cover his tracks.

The boys’ adventure quickly escalates into nightmare when they discover what Kretzer’s got in the trunk: If they were a few years older, they’d be better equipped to deal with Kretzer’s manipulations, but their naivete only makes them more vulnerable.

Bacon gives one of his most enjoyable performances as Kretzer; It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role of the wily, crooked cop.

In the film’s final moments as he relentlessly pursues the boys, he invokes such classic movie boogiemen as Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter.  This year, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Seattle Film Festival and it’s definitely high time he got more recognition. This might not be the film to earn him awards glory, but after 30 years, he seems long overdue.

Watts and Ford’s next film is called Barn Man, about a small town drunk who finds a magical creature living in a barn, and they’re planning sequels to their first film, Clown.

Unfortunately, after that, Watts is directing the wholly unnecessary Spider-Man reboot. His talent with young actors gives me hope, but I wish he’d keep making solid thrillers like this one.

Cop Car is now playing in theaters
Available On Demand and Digital HD August 14, 2015

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