Two rambunctious kids + One unattended cop car = a shitload of unforeseen consequences. Kevin Bacon ratchets up the creepy as corrupt and scheming sheriff Mitch Kretzer in Jon Watts’ entertaining and somewhat odd independent thriller. A duo of bored preteen boys discover a seemingly abandoned police car and after finding it’s keys hidden inside they take it out for a joy ride.
Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) is the self-proclaimed leader, the kid who’s coercive bossiness makes him a natural fit for taking the wheel. Harrison (Hays Wellford) is shyer and more passive, the follower and voice of reason in the duo, though that’s not saying much- reason is in short supply with these two.
Their foolish misdeed provokes the ire of Kretzer, the coke-snorting, murderous, morally bankrupt sheriff of their small Colorado town. You see, Kretzer has something in the trunk he doesn’t want the curious lads to see, and he’s willing to do anything- even murder two children- to keep his skeletons in the closet and himself out of prison.
“Cop Car” is kind of a strange movie with a thin narrative; there doesn’t seem to be much going on beneath the surface but it’s elevated by effective performances by Kevin Bacon and the kids. Bacon, rocking a 70’s pornstache and dangerously flirting with being over-the-top, is chilling as a dubious authority figure without a ethical bone in his body, his near-murder of a motorcycle officer from his district revealing his complete lack of loyalty for cops and criminals alike.
The main problem I saw with this script is that even for sheltered, Suburban kids who’s only real interaction with violence is a tournament of Halo followed by a Jean-Claude Van Damme flick, these boys are appallingly thick. Their refusal to act age appropriate (ten years old? more like two!) is not caused by the child actors, who are surprisingly good, but by a script that forgets that underestimates pre-teens. At least I hope so. Otherwise the younger generation is flat-out doomed.
I don’t know (nor would I want to know) any ten-year-olds who would put on a bullet-proof-vest and ask their friend to shoot them (in the vest, of course, as if that doesn’t make it pure idiocy) with an AK-47. And granting that a few of these kind of children exist, it’s doubly hard to believe that they would survive recess at the playground, let alone Bacon’s crafty, predatory killer.
That said, though there are things that I question about the writing, “Cop Car” is an undeniably entertaining film. Whereas the script fails the two young protagonists in some ways, making them a pair of blundering idiots who couldn’t pass a Kindergarten curriculum on the best of days, the child actors that portray them add a degree of sympathy and humanity. Furthermore the earlier scenes with the kids (before they find the cop car and open it’s ensuing Pandora’s Box) feel exceedingly natural, akin to the best coming-of-age stories.
Now for the good things- Kevin Bacon on full creeper mode, natural chemistry between the kids (they seem to genuinely like each other, which leads to a certain credibility,) a tense, taut script without a lot of filler. “Cop Car” does what all fantasies do (make no mistake, it is very much a fantasy, albeit one with realistic locations and characters) it makes the ridiculous seem possible for ninety minutes.
Could these kids survive for ten minutes with a corrupt cop with years of police training and a barrage of artillery on their trail? Probably not. Could a ten-year-old make his daring escape going a hundred miles an hour with his wounded friend in the back while followed by a maniac with an agenda? Definitely not. When placed under close scrutiny, “Cop Car” is about as believable a story as “The Goonies.”
But what is does do right is put us under it’s spell for an hour and a half. Like a magician preforming a sleight of hand, it makes us forget that the plot contrivances are pretty much bullshit, and just presents us with an entertaining and tense story. Can Bacon hard-wire a car in twenty seconds tops in a rough trailer park without getting his head blown off by a rifle-toting redneck. If you get worked up about these things, you’re probably over-thinking it. Just sit back and enjoy the film, and the birth of two pint-sized rising stars. Fin.