Cop Car

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/30/15 22:26:00

"Stay out of the back seat, kids!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Cop Car" opens by dropping enough swearwords that even parents who missed the R rating might consider pulling their kids out, which is both necessary and a bit of a pity. A family-friendly take on the story could have been fun, although staying true to where writer/director Jon Watts sees the story creates something just as entertaining and probably more thrilling.

The cussing comes from Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford), two kids of about eight or nine sort of running away from home but mostly out exploring; at probably much less than the fifty miles they estimate that they've walked, they find a police car in the middle of nowhere with no-one around, and soon find that the front door is not only unlocked, but the keys fall right into their laps. Figuring they're expert Mario Kart players, they decide to take it for a spin.

How did it get there? The film rewinds a bit and shows Sheriff Mitch Kretzler (Kevin Bacon) pulling a body out of the trunk to dispose of. He lugs it a fair distance, so when he gets back to his parking spot he's got to figure out a way to cover up both his corruption and his screw-up, especially since that trunk wasn't completely empty.

In a lot of movies like this, the adult with the C.V. of a Kevin Bacon would have his name before the title almost entirely because nobody has heard of James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford (yet). That certainly seems to be the case here at first, but Bacon quickly goes a long way to earning star billing. For one thing, he's hilarious, giving Kretzler the body language of a kid who has done something he knows will get him into trouble and is trying to figure out a way around it. Starting from there makes him an amusing pairing with the actual kids, and creates a somewhat starker contrast when actual malevolence creeps in.

The kids are still the real stars, though, and they're great. Freedson-Jackson plays Travis, the instigator of the pair, and it's a fun take on this type of character, because there's a lot less of the pushy potential bully than usual; the sense is that he's excited without being hyper. Wellford's playing the bigger but more reserved one, and Wellford does a great job of bouncing off Freedson-Jackson so that Harrison doesn't come off as particularly sensible compared to his friend but also isn't a wimp that the audience wants to see toughen up either. They're great at the playful boys' adventure stuff that starts the movie, and just as strong when the danger gets much more real.

That seems to happen in a heartbeat, a jarring change that makes the rest of the movie seem off all the way through the end. Watts earns that tone shift, peppering the first half of the film which is mostly boisterous but gentle fun with gags that would be flat-out horrific if the thing threatened actually happened, and once things switch over, he commits completely, resisting the temptation to revisit the lighter tone of the start. He handles both ends of the film well, whether it be two kids talking or a tense siege, and creates a lot of the same car-chase thrills as movies that have much more complicated vehicular action.

Being able to pull that off makes "Cop Car" a coming-of-age adventure that can surprise in a number of ways. Some folks might not be able to make their peace with how adult the movie gets and stays, especially if the more tense moments aren't really hinted at in the promotion, but they're part of what makes the film feel genuine as well as entertaining.

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