'Cop Car': Sundance Review

'Cop Car

Focus World, the alternative distribution arm of Focus Features, picked up the distribution rights to Cop Car, the Kevin Bacon thriller. The movie premiered Saturday as part of the festival's midnight sidebar. A small bidding war ensued, with Lionsgate and IFC among those chasing the keys to Car, but Focus ended up taking the wheel. The deal is said to be a shade under $2 million and encompasses a simultaneous theatrical and VOD release in the US. The UK release will be handled by Universal.

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A decent premise is wasted in this unimaginative little suspense yarn

Kevin Bacon stars as a sheriff in an small-scale action film about two kids who make off with a police car

A potentially fun premise soon turns into no fun at all in Cop Car, a seriously imagination-challenged low-end action thriller. The idea of two kids making off with a police car in redneck territory would seem to hold all sorts of possibilities, but instead of delivering a rollicking joy ride, the film quickly runs out of gas as it devolves into a routine bloody shootout drama between two bad guys you could give two hoots about, with the kids stuck in the middle; despite the potential, this is no Duel with boys at the wheel. Too violent and foul-mouthed for young audiences and not nearly clever enough foredge-seekers, this Colorado-made independent has meager theatrical prospects.

The best scene might well be the opening, as two 10-year-olds, Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford), make their way across beautiful prairie land with one saying every dirty word he can think of and challenging his marginally more reserved pal to repeat it.  The exchanges are amusing and stand in vulgar contrast to the serene landscapes and strong widescreen compositions.

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In a little glade, they come across a parked police car.  There’s no one in it and nobody nearby. They dare each other to touch it, then to get in it, then to start it up with the key that’s been left behind. “This is our car now,” one of them declares and they’re off, sirens blaring, even though neither knows how to drive.

The sheriff whose car it is, Mitch Kretzer (Kevin Bacon), is an old school bad boy type who, in an oddly timed flashback, is seen dragging a body from the car’s trunk and then dumping it down a hole. But wait, little do the kids know that there’s something else in the trunk and that Kretzer, desperate that he’s lost possession of his car with all its armaments, is on his way to track them down no matter what.

The script by director Jon Watts and Christopher Ford gets serious way too soon. There’s a bit of whimsy as the boy take turns behind the wheel speeding, lurching and veering across the center dividing line on roads virtually devoid of traffic. But instead of coming up with more vehicular hijinks and roadside escapades, the writers quickly park the boys roadside, pop a surprise passenger (Shea Whigham) out of the trunk and wait for Kretzer to catch up with them.

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Scenes of the boys goofing around with the heavy artillery are misguided and no fun at all and the surprise passenger could have been far more imaginatively conceived than as just another low-down criminal type. Better use could also have been made of a curious woman (the only female in the story) who involves herself in the incident, especially when you have the always engaging Camryn Manheim playing her.

Despite all the spare time, there’s precious little discussion of the kids’ backgrounds, what they’re running away from (you just infer the usual messed up family dynamics). Another cliché not avoided has at least one character who seems as dead as flattened road kill ridiculously springing back to life, and Bacon’s malignant small town cop is given no fresh wrinkles to distinguish him from a hundred previous such movie characters. A thorough script revision with the single aim of subverting expectations and inventing a half-dozen twists big and small could have made a big difference.

The two kids are good until their characters run out of things to say and are just stuck in the car waiting for the nasty grown-ups to try to knock each other off.

Production: Audax Films, Dark Arts, Park Pictures

Cast: Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Camryn Manheim, Shea Whigham

Director: Jon Watts

Screenwriter: Jon Watts, Christopher Ford

Producers: Cody Ryder, Alicia Van Couvering, Sam Bisbee, Andrew Kortschak, Jon Watts

Executive producers: Walter Kortschak, Lance Acord, Jackie Kelman Bisbee, Frank Brenner, Bill Perry, Tom Valerio, Bill Perry, Kevin Bacon

Directors of photography: Matthew J. Lloyd, Larkin Seiple

Production designer: Michael Powsner

Costume designer: Ruby Katilius

Editors: Megan Brooks, Andrew Hasse

Music: Phil Mossman

88 minutes