Copshop finds Joe Carnahan at the top of his game, with the requisite violence, humor, and plot intricacies to sell this brand of genre bombast.
Thanks to pandemic-related delays, we’re being gifted (or threatened with, depending on one’s tolerance for his brand of smart-ass macho bluster) two new Joe Carnahan releases in the same year. We here at InRO liked Boss Level more than most, but its overly familiar, high-concept Groundhog Day conceit and juvenile humor left something to be desired. Still, it had Carnahan’s gift for gleeful violence and typically adroit handling of an unwieldy number of cast members. Copshop reduces the amount of players but doubles down on outrageous action, and it’s all the better for it. Like Smokin Aces, Copshop isn’t complex, exactly, but it is complicated; the screenplay (credited to Carnahan and Kurt McLeod) takes its time setting up an intricate patchwork of shifting backstories and shaky allegiances, then delights in knocking them down like dominos.
Introduced twirling her six-shooter like Shane (or Robocop), Officer Val Young (Alexis Louder) and her sergeant, Mitchell (Chad Coleman), get called to put down a melee at the local casino. Once onsite, Val gets sucker punched by Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo, downplaying his buff physique and dialing up the greaseball quotient), earning him an instant trip to lock up. What they don’t know is that Teddy wants to be locked up, even though he won’t say why. Soon enough, some state troopers drag in a drunk and toss him the next cell. Except he’s not really a drunk, he’s a hired killer named Viddick (Gerard Butler, having a blast chewing up the scenery). Viddick has got Teddy right where he wants him, although everyone’s motives remain murky. Meanwhile, a dirty cop named Huber (Ryan O’Nan) has some mysterious role in this drama, as he sneaks around the station trying to stay one step ahead of Val and Mitchell while manipulating evidence. It all comes to a head when another contract killer shows up, Anthony Lamb (Toby Huss), who has it in mind to kill everyone at the station en route to acquiring a bunch of money that Teddy has stolen from some very unsavory types. That’s a very streamlined accounting of a far busier plot, as Carnahan makes time for all manner of cutaway gags and flashbacks that fill in the story while subtly undermining what we think we know about Teddy. Keeping it all together is Louder’s remarkable performance, which manages to be somehow simultaneously playful and stoic. She’s an old-fashioned moralist in a complicated modern world, and her struggle to listen to her conscience while staring down the barrel of a gun make for fascinating drama. Carnahan hasn’t lost his sense of humor, either, which he mostly funnels into Huss’s psycho killer, a motor-mouthed weirdo who takes too much pleasure in his work. It’s a hilarious performance, which, coupled with Huss’s unthreatening visage, makes the sudden acts of brutal violence all the more shocking.
Presumably filmed during the pandemic with COVID protocols in place, Copshop turns the need for distancing and separation into one of Carnahan’s most visually focused works. Characters are kept apart by cells and bulletproof glass, or shoved into opposite sides of the widescreen frame. Telephoto lenses and a shallow depth of field create contrasting profiles, with Carnahan’s mobile camera constantly dollying left or right and creeping through the hallways of the police station. It manages to evoke Leone without scanning as mere rip-off — no small feat — while also evoking that pinnacle of cops-under-siege mayhem, Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. Like Smokin Aces, there’s a certain lizard-brained pleasure in all the bravura posturing and tough-guy antics, and like Carnahan’s extremely underrated The A-Team, the plot machinery satisfies as the larger plan begins to come together. Things don’t wind up going exactly where you think they will, but rest assured, the apocalyptic finale leaves room for a further adventure. Can’t wait.