Simple but effective. I do adore these movies that follow that mantra. It shows that something seeming basic can be all that’s needed. A dodgy sheriff, two runaway lads and an abandoned police car are the main ingredients for the set up and it helps build a tense and satisfying final product.
Harrison and Travis are running away from home and their respective guardians. They stop at a wooded area of land when they see a cop car, soon they realise it’s empty and they build up to taking it for a joyride. Of course, Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) is none too pleased to come back and find his vehicle has disappeared for reasons you may not expect also. These two boys gleeful folly behind the wheel could become the drive of their lives as the Sheriff gets hot on their tails.
Jon Watt’s direction is bliss, neatly setting up location as a rusty, dusty dwelling with vulnerable and naive characters thrown right in the mix, you feel the danger for the boys from the outset. Then he neatly shows the twisted values from the long arm of the law with the Sheriff being a figure not to trust. I won’t go any further but he’s one ticked off antagonist. Watt certainly knows how to grip his audience with the opening providing that uneasy set-up and continuing it from time to time as the cop car bounds along the movie run time.
Watts joins with Christopher Ford to write this film and it’s scripted beautifully. The two boys are drawn well with their love of adult language being like all pre-teens, then they shift wonderfully as they get over the heads in cop catastrophes. The way they cut back in time with their screenplay is great, it introduces us to the Sheriff and sheds light on just what may be even worse for Harrison and Travis by taking the vehicle. Oh and though there’s some shaky processes as the film progresses, I lapped up the ending with it being morosely ambiguous.
It does have some predictable moments, such as the stand off on a clear long strip of road, the introduction of a new character however well acted, also weakens from just the approaching doom of the Sheriff hunting down the kids. We also never really gauge who this new character is, why the kids want to run off and what happens to that poor cow!?
Kevin Bacon is killer grouchy as this determined sheriff to keep his name clean at all costs. He does hold a suitable amount of menace and swagger that makes him a cop to fear. The cold stare in his eyes is near constant which adds to why it should just be him providing the obstacles for the boys. Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson portray Harrison and Travis and they did grate on me for the first quarter/third of the film, it’s hard to have kids and animals as they say but by the end, these two actors proved they’re capable and showed the emotion needed in their dire situation. Shea Whigham crops up too and provides a crazy eyed routine, a nasty speech and a character with desperation that peaks and peaks.
It may not be the thrill ride I’d hoped it would be, or the horror road trip I sensed from the trailer but it’s screeching with tension, Kevin Bacon is smoothly chilling throughout and ‘Cop Car’ comes through with grit and awareness.