Cop Car (2015)

2 Sep

“This is our cop car!” ten-year-old Harrison (Hays Wellford) yells, as he and his best friend Travis (James Freedson-Jackson), take off with a newly carjacked police vehicle. The aptly-titled film Cop Car follows these two boys as they begin their rebellious journey by committing grand theft auto in a midwest rural town. Of course, the local Sheriff  Kretzer (a wonderful Kevin Bacon) isn’t game to just let a couple of hoodlums escape with his car, especially when it contains important contraband connected with a crime of Kretzer’s own doing…

Directed by Jon Watts and co-written by Watts and Chris D. Ford, Cop Car starts out as standard teenage, lighthearted fare. The first opening lines feature Harrison and Wellford alone in a wheatfield spewing a string of curse words for the sheer thrill of it. Boys will be boys after all. As the film slowly starts to shed light on the repercussions of messing with law enforcement, it becomes obvious to the children, and to the audience, that things have gotten WAY out of control. This is when the film thematically exhausts itself, as it tries too hard to straddle the lines between 1) exploiting the jokes and fun of having a pair of innocent kids take on the cops, and 2) showing just how serious (read: deadly) the situation has become.  It’s a tough line to straddle, and there are moments in the film (like when the children try to figure out how to handle a police pistol, for example) where I wasn’t sure if I should be laughing or terrified.  It’s all fun and games until someone gets shot.

Story-wise though, there is enough going on to make up for the film’s self-confusion. Watts and Ford have written a fairly solid film, especially in its latter half. And the execution – from the cinematography to the editing to the action scenes – is equally solid. In a film like this though, the children obviously take in the spotlight. Wellford and Freedson-Jackson make an adorable on screen presence, but unfortunately their lack of acting experience shines right through. Of course child actors are usually tricky, and make for an easy critical targets when discussing performances, but in a film like Cop Car, so much is weighing on the kids and it’s absolutely critical to have believable young actors who can pull the whole thing off. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here.

The vast majority of Cop Car however, is as entertaining as its premise would suggest. Watts cleverly weaves multiple storylines and points of view together to create a fulfilling and suspenseful narrative, complete with an incredible third act. Some of the scenes are flat out brilliant (the final 5 minutes might be one of the best cinematic moments of the year), but others feel mismatched and inconsistent. Clocking in at a nice and neat 86 minutes doesn’t give me too much to complain about.

Bottom Line: Missed opportunities and bland child acting zap Cop Car of it’s potential, making the film a bit of an inconsistent – but always enjoyable – mixed bag. 


Rating: 6/10 

The Recipe: Coen Bros + Home Alone (1990) + Young Anakin from The Phantom Menace 

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