Jon Watts’ Cop Car starts promisingly but eventually runs out of gas. Review by Alan Laidlaw at Edinburgh International Film Festival
As a child everything is fascinating. The most commonplace of objects fill us to the brim with wonder and awe, and we transform something which most adults wouldn’t think to give a second glance into something iconic and sacred.
This is what forms the opening sequences of Cop Car. Two young boys, who have just run away from home, are boisterously cursing their way through a remote area of Colorado, when they stumble upon a deserted police vehicle. It’s an old, rusty banger of a car – but you wouldn’t know that by their reaction. They peer at it as if looking at the rarest and most beautiful of wildlife. It’s a moment that’s touching and funny because there’s a realism attached to it connecting us back to our very own childhood – we may grow up but the universality of that experience never leaves us.
What proceeds from here is firmly grounded in the traditions of b-movie madness. The children go for a drive in the car, only to discover there is a man tied up in the boot. We are shown that the car belongs to a manic police officer (Kevin Bacon), who seems to be caught up in something he shouldn’t be – involving burying a body in the woods.
It’s frustrating to think how good this film could have been if it weren’t for the off-putting juxtaposition of harsh, near blood-curdling violence and the genuine excitement of adventure of the boys. There are pockets of brilliance between the cacophonous chaos of ill-judged tone, as we get swept along by the genuine chemistry and charm of the boy’s friendship which is natural, effortless and heart-warming to witness.
Kevin Bacon turns in an appropriately bizarre performance as a man of the law on the brink of his life and career unravelling, playing it with a left-of-centreness that we’ve seen in the past from him.
As the film draws ever closer to its conclusion, it continues to be dragged – kicking and screaming – farther from the beauty of the earlier scenes. Director Jon Watts misses the mark on making a successful grind-house imitation and ends up with a film that’s disturbing for all the wrong reasons.