Cop Car (EIFF, 2015)

Cop CarRunaways Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford) are walking cross-country echoing cuss-words when they happen across an abandoned patrol car in a small forest clearing. At first daring one another just to touch it, it’s not long before their misadventures escalate and the boys are inside the vehicle starting the ignition. Little do they know that the car actually belongs to Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon), a corrupt police officer who was in the middle of discreetly disposing of two criminals when his car was unceremoniously stolen with one con still inside. As the boys joyride around the area, Kretzer sets off in pursuit in the hope of intercepting them before either one of them gets bored and opens the boot.

With his first film, Clown, having screened at Glasgow Film Festival back in February, Jon Watts’ follow-up Cop Car was among the higher profile films to be announced for the 69th Edinburgh International Film Festival, particularly after it enjoyed a generally warm reception at Sundance. Although ostensibly of a different genre, Cop Car has quite a lot in common with Clown, not least its darkly comic undertones and blatant disregard for child safety. To begin with, the film plays like a relatively straight-forward coming-of-age drama, but when the narrative rewinds to introduce Kretzer Watts’ surreal and absurdist sensibilities return to the fore. Bacon’s character isn’t turning into an ancient clown demon, but as he sets off in pursuit of the young carjackers (with that moustache taped to his face) there’s a spectacle to the scene that makes it almost farcical.

One of Watts’ greatest accomplishments across both films is his ability to control apparently great leaps in tone. For, having started as an innocent adventure movie and segued briefly into broad comedy the co-writer/director then transitions seamlessly into a legitimate action thriller. Unbound by any one genre and free from their accepted conventions, Watts is able to raise the stakes to really quite remarkable degrees (especially if you’re aware how far he went in Clown). In these sorts of movies you can usually count on the kids being all right come the end, but because it ceases to be a children’s movie about twenty minutes in all bets are suddenly off. As Travis and Harrison get their hands on assorted police equipment, including guns and defibrillators, you genuinely fear for their safety. This level of suspense isn’t just maintained but amplified, particularly once they wind up locked in the back seat during a long and lethal shoot-out.

As entertaining as this fluid versatility can be, however, it’s structurally a little confusing, and makes deciding who to root for a little more complicated than usual. Considering the children are introduced as protagonists, it’s a little disappointing and ultimately rather undramatic to see them take such a passive role — a literal back seat — in the last act. As thrilling as the gun battle undoubtedly is, it feels more like a diversion than a satisfying finale, almost as though Watts and Christopher Ford had run out of things for the kids to do. Perhaps by rejigging the structure so that Kretzer’s introduction precedes that of the children the screenwriters might have justified the character’s prominence later on; because as it stands Cop Car feels like a reimagined version of The Goonies where Mikey and co. watch Sloth take on the Fratellis from the arms of their cephalopod captor. There is also the small issue of the child actors themselves, who convince in the earlier scenes but lose something of their early conviction and credibility as the demands on them increase. If Travis and Harrison really are supposed to be anti-heroes, the film could have used young actors with a little more edge.

Though creative enough to distinguish itself on the festival circuit, Cop Car lacks the consistency and iconography necessary to achieve the cult classic status it might have done had it been a little more refined and defined. The late introduction of a fourth character undermines the cat-and-mouse structure that audiences had been waiting to see satisfyingly paid off, so that instead — pardon the pun — the conclusion is caught somewhere between a cop-out and an out-right con.

3.5-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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