Friday, October 23, 2015

Cop Car

(Jon Watts, 2015)

Two runaway boys stumble upon an unattended sheriff’s cruiser in the Colorado countryside and decide to take it for a joy ride in COP CAR. Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford) appear to be ten years old at most. While that’s old enough to know better to make the choices they do, the gravity of their actions is lost on them. They have fun getting their first taste of driving a vehicle without a video game controller and attempting to fire the guns they find in the backseat.

The patrol car belongs to Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon), and as is to be expected, he’s not at all happy to find it missing when he returns. The boys would be in a world of trouble no matter what police officer’s car they could have taken, but in this case they swiped one belonging to a lawman who was in the midst of disposing evidence that unmistakably proves his corruption. Something incriminating remains in the trunk, which makes the sheriff’s urgency to retrieve it all the greater.

The boys in COP CAR display the obliviousness of youth, especially to the real danger they put themselves in. It’s no judgment of their intelligence that they say and do the kind of stupid things that might occur to unthinking kids but a reflection of their impulsiveness and inexperience. Director and co-writer Jon Watts mines their actions humor and terror. Of course they assume they can drive the car because they’ve played MarioKart because it’s the kind of logic a preteen might employ. It’s horrifying when they play with guns or speed down a lonely country road because they aren’t aware of how reckless they’re being.

To a degree every character of consequence is a bumbler in a manner similar to those in Coen brothers films. While COP CAR can be funny as things unravel and stakes heighten, the tension that develops is its primary asset. Watts demonstrates his ability to construct scenes loaded with apprehension as events pile up and in miniature, as when the sheriff tries to use a shoelace to break into a locked car. The film’s narrative leanness is only a shortcoming in that it doesn’t quite have enough material for even a pared down running time.

COP CAR delivers no backstory because it isn’t necessary. The film lives moment to moment, and the suspense intensifies as it builds to the convergence of its relative innocents with the antagonists. COP CAR turns somewhat cruel in the final act, which is probably a more accurate reflection of how an incident like this might be resolved, but it leaves a bitter taste that comes across as contrary to the scenario’s tone for the majority of the film.

Grade: B-

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