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Quick, raise your hand if you’ve seen one of these plot elements in a cop movie before. A jaded veteran cop gets paired with an idealistic rookie. A routine traffic stop turns into a hair-raising, violent showdown. A seemingly mundane encounter with a civilian becomes strangely weird. Philosophical discussions arise repeatedly about the meaning of life during a long night patrolling the mean streets of Los Angeles.
Is your hand up? I thought so. These, and many other oft-seen cliches, are recycled in Joel Souza’s feature debut starring Thomas Jane as a longtime member of the LAPD tasked with training a new member of the force during a nightlong shift in the cop car whose model gives the film its title. The irony is that, for all its familiar elements, Crown Vic is a well-made and strongly acted effort showing real talent on the part of its writer-director. One just wishes that the film, receiving its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, didn’t resemble every single cop movie and television show that has come down the pike since 1972’s The New Centurions, of which it could be a virtual remake.
Crown Vic begins literally with a bang, during a bank robbery committed by a pair of particularly violent bad guys, which is followed by a shootout and car chase. (The press notes acknowledge that the scene is reminiscent of the “legendary 1997 shootout in North Hollywood,” although it doesn’t mention that the episode was also the inspiration for the film Heat and numerous others). It’s not hard to figure out that those robbers will figure prominently in the storyline by the film’s conclusion, because Los Angeles, after all, is really just a small town and movies like this one depend on useful coincidences.
Paired for the night are world-weary 25-year vet Ray Mandel (Jane), clearly nearing the end of his career, and newcomer Nick Holland (Luke Kleintank), who’s following in the footsteps of his dad on the force. Ray isn’t really the chatty type, but he does have such words of advice for his young trainee as “Always respect your equipment.”
The shift is a particularly eventful one, barely leaving the two cops time for coffee and donuts. They come across an abandoned burning car that turns out to have a nasty surprise inside. They arrest a drunken young woman who offers them sex and then throws up in the back of their car. They have an uncomfortable conversation with a psychotic, detective (Josh Hopkins, acting up a storm), a war veteran, naturally, and his toady partner (David Krumholtz) who looks ready to go undercover if it were still the 1970s.
One of the most dramatic episodes concerns the duo’s encounter with the strung-out widow (Bridget Moynahan) of Ray’s former partner whose daughter has gone missing. Ray takes it upon himself to go off the grid and find the little girl, leading to both melodramatic plot revelations and an act of violence that’s both gratuitous and utterly implausible, at least the way it’s depicted.
And so it goes, with the proceedings alternating between lengthy, rambling conversations about such topics as marriage, dying alone and the changing state of policing (Ray laments the intrusions of cellphone cameras and body-cams) and violent episodes often tinged with dark humor, including an attractive woman, off her meds, throwing open her robe and revealing her nakedness to a flustered Nick. (Considering that the character has essentially been propositioned twice in a single night, the LAPD might consider using the film as a recruitment video.)
The filmmaker displays a genuine flair for staging exciting action sequences, and the ever-reliable Jane delivers a solid lead performance, here tempering his natural machismo with a sympathetic, mournful quality. But there’s just too much about Crown Vic that we haven’t seen a thousand times before, to more impactful effect. Its main distinctions are its refreshingly subdued ending and the convincing performance by Buffalo, N.Y., where the film was entirely shot, as the City of Angels.
Production Companies: Crown Vic Productions, Brittany House Pictures, Wudi Pictures Limited, El Dorado Pictures, BondIt Media Capital
Cast: Thomas Jane, Luke Kleintank, Josh Hopkins, Greg Bello, David Krumholtz, Bridget Moynahan, Scottie Thompson
Director-screenwriter: Joel Souza
Producers: Alec Baldwin, Peter Toumbekis, Anjul Nigam, Gregg Bello, Maxx Tsai
Executive producers: Matthew Helderman, Luke Taylor, Steve Straka, Myles Nestel, Chris Barish, Jim Valdez
Director of photography: Thomas Scott Stanton
Production designer: Debbie De Villa
Costume designer: Carisa Kelly
Editor: David Andalman
Composer: Jeffery Alan Jones
Casting director: Avy Kaufman
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Narrative)
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