Director: Joe Carnahan Starring: Alexis Louder, Gerard Butler, Frank Grillo Running Time: 107 minutes
In a world where action movies have mostly been subsumed by the most dominant brands on the market, and therefore always subject to their demands – are they doing right by the character, will they keep the ‘universe’ moving forward – there’s a lot to be said for keeping it simple and trying something new. Simple is a relative term for a director like Joe Carnahan, who in movies like The Grey and Smokin Aces has delivered B-movie thrills with a broader appeal and here in Copshop he’s in similar form with his stars. With Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo both in the producer’s chairs and on the call sheet, Copshop aims to be a certain kind of action flick – something smartly dumb built around two stars your dad can’t name but definitely recognises, the kind to keep him occupied of a Sunday afternoon. And it mostly delivers on that, occasionally and admirably attempting to be something more.
Even attempting to be something different and new, Copshop can’t help but set itself up as a throwback though. Specifically to the gritty action movies of the late 70s and early 80s, the kinds made by Michael Winner, Joseph Sargent or John Carpenter – confined spaces, flawed characters, loud guns. There’s an inconsistency though to its approach – its opening titles, heavy on swirling graphics and dirty guitar pedals suggest more of a pastiche. It’s clear Carnahan loves these kinds of movies (he wrote the remake of Death Wish after all), but getting out of the way of his own boyish enthusiasm is when this movie is at its best.
Grillo plays Teddy Muretto, a sleazy con man who has pissed off quite a few of just the wrong people and decides that the safest place for him is in the hands of the cops. Well enough for some. After headbutting up and coming officer Valerie Young, he’s safe and secure in the clink. Until he’s joined by another ne’er do well with the exact same scheme – Gerard Butler’s Bob Viddick, a contract killer who fakes drunk to get thrown in with his target Teddy. But he’s not the only one after Teddy, and with the small town cops unawares and off guard, before long the precinct is under, well assault. Temporary, tenuous, tense alliances ensue and un-ensue as Valerie struggles to keep these crooks in check and herself alive.
Alexis Louder plays Val and the star power, such as it is, of Butler and Grillo definitely helps to get eyes towards a showstealing performance. Valerie is quick-witted and competent, by-the-book but not bogged down by it – a cop who spins an antique revolver on the sly, uncarefully wishing for more exciting action to come her way. Louder is extremely comfortable and confident carrying the film, even navigating some of Carnahan’s clunkier lines, which sometimes serve less actual 70s movies and more Tarantino talking about 70s movies. Louder has charisma to burn and holds the eye when the action starts ramping up, engagingly enlivening through the kind of performance her costars sometimes have been known to go through in their sleep.
It’s a slow burn as Teddy and Viddick try and work their own angles on Val, kicking into louder gears with the introduction of another assassin, a psycho killer played by Toby Huss. Again, Huss’ performance, all Looney Tunes accents and ‘hilarious’ overwritten dialogue, feels like something from a different movie to the one that’s quite enjoyable when he’s not in it.
The shoot em up scenes are very well put together and Carnahan and co do a great job of getting you on Val’s side, holding the suspense with a steady hand. The plot twists and turns a little too often for one that never exactly shocks, but the characters are mostly well drawn enough to keep you along their journey. And whenever one of them is talking juuust too long to veer into irritating, they usually get blown away, which helps. Copshop is a blast when it’s blasting – it’s when the dust settles that you notice there’s a bit of a mess.(3 / 5)