Two kids (played by James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford) have ran away from home and are trying to set off and start their lives anew. They’ve only been away from home for a few hours, but that’s a long time in kid hours. When they stumble across an empty cop car in a secluded area they decide to have some fun. And then, when they find that it’s unlocked and the keys are stashed away inside it, they decide to go for a little drive. Unfortunately, it turns out that the cop (Kevin Bacon) who will be wanting his car back is a bad ‘un. And so develops a thriller that sprinkles plenty of humour amongst the more tense moments.
Jon Watts and Christopher D. Ford last combined their talents to give us the hugely disappointing Clown, so it’s nice to see them work together on something that at least lives up to some of the hype you may have already heard. Watts shows how much better he can be in the director’s chair this time, and both he and Ford obviously write better material when it’s not having to create a ridiculous mythology to justify the premise.
They also get lucky with the casting, especially Freedson-Jackson and Wellford in the vital lead roles. The film is at its best when the boys are reacting to events around them in amusingly childish ways (whether they’re staring down the barrels of guns that aren’t firing or judging someone as good or bad simply based on their gut feeling). That’s not to say that the adults are slouching, however. Bacon gives a very good performance as the law officer who grows increasingly desperate with each passing minute that sees him without his car, Shea Whigham livens up the third act, and Camryn Manheim is an enjoyable addition to the small, core cast – playing a woman who sees the kids driving the car, much to the disbelief of people that she tries to tell.
It’s just a shame that Cop Car isn’t the near-perfect gem that it could be. A couple of scenes are drawn out beyond the duration that you’d expect, with the result being some great tension, but other scenes are treated in almost the same way when some editing would have been the better option. You can build tension by drawing out a scene, but you can also dissipate it in the same way. There’s a fine line between unbearable and tedious, although I am sure some (many?) will disagree with me.
That being said, the good stuff here works really well. Cop Car is a small movie well worth your time and a bit of your money. Because I’d much rather see Watts and Ford try something more in line with this next, as opposed to anything that takes them a step back towards Clown territory.
Cop Car is screening at EIFF 2015 on 19th and 24th June.
DIRECTOR: JON WATTS
WRITER: JON WATTS, CHRISTOPHER D. FORD
STARS: JAMES FREEDSON-JACKSON, HAYS WELLFORD, KEVIN BACON, SHEA WHIGHAM, CAMRYN MANHEIM
RUNTIME: 86 MINS APPROX