Two boys walk through a giant expanse of space in New Mexico. They engage in call-and-response cursing. The first boy, Travis (James Freedson-Jackson), calls out a bad word and the second, Harrison (Hays Wellford), repeats it. They come upon a barbed-wire fence. Travis pulls apart the wires and quickly moves through it with ease. Harrison approaches slowly, gingerly prying the throned wires and tentatively slipping through. In these few moments, director Jon Watts gives us a clear idea who these boys are – Travis is the leader while Harrison follows unsure of their plan.
The boys have run away for reasons we do not know, nor do we know where they are going. After a few miles, they come to a cop car resting alongside the path near a creek. At first, they think the cops must be after them and they hide. Then no, they realize, they’ve not been gone long enough to be noticed missing. Like they’ve seen in the movies, they throw rocks in the opposite direction to misdirect the cops so they can run. But there doesn’t seem to be any cops anywhere, just the car. They approach cautiously, daring each other to touch the car, then with more gusto trying the doors, and eventually driving away like bandits on the run.
The car belongs to Sheriff Kretzer (a perfectly slimy Kevin Bacon) who is as corrupt as he can be and who wants his car back. Now. There’s something in the trunk, but I’ll not spoil any more of the plot. What you get is a taught, suspenseful, if not exactly perfect, little thriller.
At just under 90 minutes, there’s no filler to be found. Every scene, every moment counts. There’s not a character nor situation that doesn’t move the story forward.
The preview for the film creates sort of a bait and switch as it seems that it’s going to be a cat-and-mouse game between the boys and the Sheriff, but complications ensue pretty quickly that turn the basic premise on its head. That’s not a real negative for the movie, but it mucked with my expectations and left me a little sore I wasn’t getting the film I had anticipated.
Bacon is terrific and in full slime-ball mode, but he never ventures into cartoonishness even when his character turns into full-on mustache-twirling villain (and he does sport one hell of a mustache here.) The boys seem ridiculously naive at times – there’s an awful scene where Harrison puts on a bulletproof vest and tries to get Travis to shoot him – if not downright stupid, but the actors manage to pull it off. Mostly.
Cop Caris the sort of film that after it’s over and you start to think about it, well, it kind of falls apart. But in the moment, it rushes you right along and takes you on an exhilarating ride.
The video is beautiful. The cinematography uses the hot, dry, craggy New Mexico landscape to its fullest and every bit of it looks fantastic. Colors are bold, and blacks are stark. I noticed absolutely no problems in it at all. Sound-wise, it’s also pretty flawless. Most of the film is pretty quiet, but you can hear the wind brush across the plains with ease, and in the more explosive ending, the speakers get a crystal-clear workout.
Extras are incredibly sparse with just one three-minute piece that gives a brief look inside the car and the making of a stunt.
Cop Car is not a great film by any means, but its a fine thriller and a taut piece of filmmaking.