Filmmaker Joe Carnahan is a man of action. Or more specifically, he’s a man who makes action happen in his movies. I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s anything unique or special about the way he does it, but he’s committed to the depicting it in his film in a variety of ways, from frenetic (Smokin’ Aces) to contemplative (The Grey, perhaps the only one of his films I’d call excellent) to everything in between (The A-Team). His latest work features the very silly title Copshop, but it actually has a few aspects to it that I think are well handled and quite clever (and a few that are decidedly not).
The films opens with con artist Teddy Murretto (frequent Carnahan collaborator Frank Grillo) driving across the Nevada desert in a car riddled with bullet holes. He’s clearly running from something, but we’re not sure what just yet. He eventually attracts the attention of the police, and comes up with the spontaneous plan to sucker punch young officer Valerie Young (absolute standout Alexis Louder, from The Tomorrow War and HBO’s Watchmen) and get himself thrown in jail, where he thinks he’ll be safe from…whatever is after him. His plan works, but not long after he gets tossed in the clink, an intoxicated character is brought into the same police station and thrown into the cell opposite Teddy (apparently drunks can’t share a cell with regular criminals; I’m not exactly sure who they’re protecting from whom with that rule).
Before long, the “drunk” is revealed to be notorious hitman Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler), who was sent by parties unknown to kill Teddy. But since Bob can’t get to Teddy, he decides to torment him from just a few feet away until the time is right to finish the mission. While this is going on in the basement holding cells, upstairs in the squad room, things are heating up as Officer Young begins to dig into who exactly Teddy is and why he might be on the run. Another officer is clearly working for the wrong people and begins poking around where he shouldn’t. Eventually, a third criminal type named Anthony Lamb (the great Toby Huss) arrives at the station and lays waste to the first floor before making his way to the basement to finish everybody’s jobs for them. In a film with people seemingly competing to see who is the biggest psychopath, Lamb wins while barely trying. His aw-shucks demeanor just makes it more shocking when he straight-up murders so many people during the course of the movie.
From a screenplay by Kurt McLeod and Carnahan, Copshop is as much a battle of wits as it is weapons, and that’s one of the elements I like most about it. Each of the four main characters (the three criminals and the young officer) is attempting to anticipate the moves of the others, while not getting killed in the process. Eventually, the silver-tongued Teddy convinces Young to sneak him out of the cells to avoid Lamb, who is on the verge of breaking through a concrete wall. And the question throughout the film is, will Teddy keep his word and not try to escape. It should come as no surprise that, eventually, everyone is out of their cages and maneuvering around the station trying to murder anything that moves, even as they talk to each other like old friends (which some of them actually are).
There is nothing deep or meaningful about Copshop; its sole purpose and mission is to keep us guessing as to who lives until the end and why. You’ll inevitably have your favorite who you’d like to see survive, but that person might be different for everyone (although I think we’ll all agree that the resourceful officer should get a pass from death). The film doesn’t attempt to get much below the surface, so there’s no profound examination about why these criminals do what they do. Even when they fill in the blanks about why Teddy is on the run, the film doesn’t really reveal anything more about its characters beyond the fact that Teddy has no loyalty to anyone. Big shocker there. To be honest, the only character I wanted to know more about was Officer Young. She has a spirit and conviction to her that is admirable and worthy of wanting to know more about her life in the midst of the chaos that is the film’s final act.
It’s fun seeing Butler play a character that isn’t trying to save the day, and he’s clearly having a ball playing this very bad guy with actual knowledge of how humans behave and respond to particular situations. He’s able to anticipate many people’s movements here, and it’s a nicely written character that Butler inhabits beautifully. I grew to have something of a soft spot for Copshop, even though it lacks certain qualities I enjoy in both action movies and character studies. It features some terrific performances in a cat-and-mouse game that I wish had the guts to go a little deeper, but I’d still mildly recommend seeking this one out.
Copshop is now playing in theaters.
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