MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Cop Car’ Delights Then Runs Off The Rails

Film: Cop Car
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Shea Whigham, Hays Welford, James Freedson-Jackson
Directed by: James Watts

I fondly look back on all of the dangerous things my brother and I did as a kid, whether it was jumping off the roof of our childhood home onto a trampoline or trespassing on the local cranberry bog. For context, we had this dreamlike machination that somewhere in that bog was some rifle-toting landowner who hated little kids. Cop Car is the kind of film that changes gears in the last act; perfectly capturing the adventurous nature of childhood in the beginning and then diverging into a generically consequential thriller in the end. The former is better than the latter, but it’s more than worth your time.

Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Welford) are a pair of rebellious ten-year-olds, getting excited every single time they utter swears out loud. Their constant second-guessing on doing things that get them in trouble becomes null and void when they run away from home and happen upon an empty cop car. After much deliberation, they decide to steal it. A wily sheriff by the name of Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) is looking to get his car back as he has a secret to keep its trunk.

Cop Car moves at a slow pace, showing us the dull reality that these kids inhabit instead of making their imaginations flow out aesthetically. Their escape: a cop car with two guns. They pretend to shoot bad guys and look down the barrels like they’re searching for something that may not be there. Of course, these kinds of acts are passed off in a darkly humorous and uncomfortable fashion. We know something is going to go wrong with two pre-teens and a couple of handguns, but we don’t know when or how. That’s the conceit here. It’s what director/writer James Watts wants to play around with until the tension becomes unbearable. And for the most part, it totally works.

Kevin Bacon seems to be having the most fun in years as the near mustache-twirling seedy sheriff. Every single time his character has some serious character beat that’s meant to show off how dangerous and serious he is, the moment is directly followed up with him bumbling over something to try to track these kids down. Breaking down that self-serious masculinity that occupies so many films today. After all, this is a movie about the imagination of two kids running rampant. The kids are great as well, perfectly showcasing the ecstasy caused by pulling off dangerous stunts and then the deep-seated fear when the ramifications come calling.

The only problem with Cop Car that I had was the end. When Kretzer finally catches up with the boys and the secret is let out (literally), the film becomes something totally different. What started as these kids’ escape from reality turned into a rushed, coming-of-age third act, totally contradicting everything that happened before it. I’m not saying that the final act should turn out to be inconsequential for the childish duo, just that it shouldn’t feel so forced into such an easy conclusion that settles on a predictable twist.

Cop Car is a really promising feature from Watts, whose next feature is the upcoming Spider-Man reboot over at Sony. Also, Shea Whigham (an amazing character actor in so many things such as Boardwalk Empire) has an absolutely sadistic monologue that is worth the price of admission alone.


Review written by Sam Cohen (Follow him on Twitter!)

Sam Cohen
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