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Cop Car - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Cop Car
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A-
Editing: A-

A title like Cop Car makes it sound like a hokey B-movie, and conceptually, it kind of is -- but at least it's straightforward, as is virtually everything about this movie, which sets it apart in all the right ways.

The opening scene is certainly memorable: two kids, Travis and Harrison (James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford), walking through a vast open field of browning grass. The firs things we hear them say are swear words: Travis, clearly the leader of the two, states them; Harrison repeats them. They pretty much run the gamut of all swear words available. It's like an extended George Carlin routine with kids, only not as funny. It is a bit amusing.

We learn quickly that these kids have run away from home. We don't know why, nor do we ever find out. There's a lot we never find out, which adds to the intrigue. The only details we get about the kids' home lives is when a terrifying man later tells them what terrifying things he'll do to their pets and guardians if they don't keep quiet. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The script, co-written by Christopher D. Ford and director John Watts, features unusually realistic dialogue between these kids. There's no Diabo Cody-style precociousness here; Travis and Harrison talk the way any pre-adolescent kids do -- with glaring ignorance and false bravado. They don't say things that are terribly interesting. They find a snake hole and jab sticks into it.

And then they come across a loose jumble of trees -- something they comically refer to as "the forest" -- and find what appears to be an abandoned cop car. They throw pebbles at it from afar, then gain courage and ultimately find the driver's door open and slip inside. They find the keys above the visor. They start the car . . . and drive off in it, for a joyride over the plains. And then the highway. They keep moving to the wrong side of the road, and it's a relief when at least Harrison, in the passenger seat, puts on his seat belt.

Cut to the owner of the car: Sherriff Kretzer, played by Kevin Bacon. Bacon has a long history of being in god-awful movies, and this is mercifully an exception; it's not only arguably his best role in ages, but perhaps his most deliciously villainous. When we meet him, he's dragging a body on a tarp through the aforementioned trees, to dump it in a hole in the ground. You can imagine his surprise when he returns to where he knows he left his car.

It takes a while, but after the kids are reported by a lady (a perfectly cast Camryn Manheim, in a bit of a pivotal role) who saw kids driving a cop car on the highway, Kretzer figures out who took the car. Much of the film involves Kretzer working to catch up with these kids who feel like they have little to lose since they are runaways anyway -- until they discover what else is in the trunk.

It seems like Watts could maybe have chosen a better way to end Cop Car than with a relatively predictable shootout, but he still throws in enough subtle twists to keep things interesting. Camryn Manheim winds up being the only trustworthy adult around these kids, and she ultimately serves as more of a monkey wrench than anything. The kids merely find themselves in the middle of something that has nothing to do with them, stuck between other characters who are clearly enemies with each other but none of them heroes.

As with the kids' motives to run away, Watts never bothers to provide us with backstory regarding what Kretzer did prior to driving to those trees, or why the dead man is dead. We are left to presume he killed him, but never find out why. This effectively adds to the tension, because we are never any more privy to Kretzer's motives than the kids are. A last-act chase scene is slight overkill, but easily forgivable given how gripping the movie is overall. This would be a great movie to watch cold, with no knowledge of what it's about beforehand -- because it grabs you from the opening scene, keeps you wanting to know what will happen next, and keeps its hold until the end.

Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson are a couple of reckless runaways in COP CAR.

Overall: B+
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