In Jon Watts‘ simplistic thriller, Kevin Bacon portrays a shady police officer who oozes unsavory from the very first moment we see him. Forget that the film starts with him dragging a body to dump in makeshift, yet well-worn pit in some clandestine location. Most of the time, Bacon has a uniquely effortless way of telegraphing that he’s a bad dude with very little effort.
Still, his insidious delivery can be as charming as it is nebulous. Playing a corrupt Sheriff, he’s prepared to go great lengths to conceal his nefarious deeds, but also keep the fact he’s a dirty cop under wraps. Yet, like a modern-day Scooby-Doo episode, he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for two meddling kids…the ones who stole his, you guessed it, Cop Car.
So-called “midnight movies” are fun on a variety of levels. Mostly, as anyone who attends genre film festivals can attest, they offer looks into different walks of life, and, fantastical or not, embody a sort of adventure. After all, it’s a break from the norm that audiences secretly crave, and these films usually deliver the goods. Especially if you’re a kid.
With such a small cast, it’s amazing how intense the drama and dialogue in Watts’ film can be, but it’s full of surprises despite being very light on resources. While set in the plains of an unspecified American town, it seems almost like a story lost in time which makes it a perfect locale for such an out of the ordinary tale.
Cop Car has such a highly implausible conceit that it makes everything darkly funny, at first. Even though this is obviously staged, it’s amazing to watch the kids (James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford who had hours and hours of car safety training) react to their roles. They respond to driving the titular stolen vehicle, the CB radio, and, finally, Kevin Bacon like they are living in the moment. Further, it’s heightened by how well they deal with the material, the vastness of the setting, and Watts’ remarkable long takes.
While the boys continually press their luck (and the fact that no one is around to see them, question them, or alter their way of thinking), they come across as kids rationalizing things like kids would; the gun isn’t broken, the safety’s on. It’s somewhat shocking as their actions have, at best, criminal consequences and, at worst, mortal ones. But they are essentially living out a video game and, in an odd way, the film marginally comments on kids who live their lives in a virtual environment.
What makes the story more mysterious is the lack of back story on, well, anybody. We are simply caught up in the slow-boil events happening on-screen, and left to fill in the blanks ourselves – that speculation makes what seems like a flat film a bit fuller. It’s especially key because we leave the characters, who are anything but cinematic archetypes, about as swiftly as we meet them.
Gripping and focused with the just five characters, each supporting actor reacts to things set in motion by the boys with such legitimacy. The impact of their actions radiates beyond the confines of the screen which creates a realism that enhances the experience. Cop Car is a no-fills flick and one quick to the guts of this engaging, and well-paced thriller.