THE STORY – Screaming through the Nevada desert in a bullet-ridden car, wily con artist Teddy Murretto hatches a plan to hide out from lethal assassin Bob Viddick. He punches rookie officer Valerie Young to get himself arrested and locked up in a small-town police station. However, jail can’t protect Murretto for long as Viddick schemes his own way into detention, biding his time in a nearby cell until he can complete his mission.
THE CAST – Gerard Butler, Frank Grillo, Alexis Louder & Toby Huss
THE TEAM – Joe Carnahan (Director/Writer) & Kurt McLeod (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 107 Minutes
By Mitchell Beaupre
After disappearing from the directing game for seven years following 2014’s “Stretch,” Joe Carnahan made his return with “Boss Level” this March. A time-loop sci-fi thriller starring Frank Grillo, Mel Gibson, Naomi Watts, and Michelle Yeoh, the film was a misfire. According to our review, we said, “the emotional journeys established are weak and shallow, while the irreverent tone comes across as forced and inauthentic.” Thankfully, much kinder words are in store for Carnahan’s second film of 2021, the new jail-set chamber piece, “Copshop.”
Written by Carnahan and Kurt McLeod, “Copshop” has an easy sell for any pitch meeting. Set in a small-town police station, this environment becomes a battleground between a hitman (Gerard Butler), a rookie cop (Alexis Louder), and a con artist (Grillo again). Shades of John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” abound. Yet, Carnahan also brings plenty of that irreverent charm yet again, with characters who feel plucked out of the director’s 2006 hyperkinetic cabal, “Smokin’ Aces.”
Unlike “Boss Level,” the tone here feels appropriately modulated, navigating the fine line between winking, self-aware Tarantino-esque coolness, and hard-hitting action that keeps the adrenaline pumping from the moment all of these characters are locked into a building together. In what looks like the only structure for miles, the trio is a bloody shootout waiting to happen, and Carnahan has an absolute ball sharpening the knives while we wait for all hell to break loose.
Each character brings their own particular set of skills to the table. As the mischievous Bob Viddick, Butler (a far more welcome presence on screen these days than Mel Gibson) feels born for his role here. Stumbling onto the scene pretending to be an utterly unintelligible drunk, this is a man who knows how to work the right angles to get the results he needs. In this case, that’s the head of Grillo’s Teddy Murretto on a platter. The two bounce off one another perfectly, as Butler is having the time of his life chewing scenery and staring down the barrel to the man he knows has nowhere to run.
Grillo, fittingly, looks like a rat caught in a cage. With his long, flowing locks pinned up in a man-bun, Teddy’s eyes give away his desperation, the fear growing with every word that Viddick says to toy with his prey as if he’s a kid pushing his mashed potatoes around the plate before he devours them. Things get even more chaotic when the always great Toby Huss arrives as a competing hitman, the scene-stealing Anthony Lamb. If Butler is having a party in this winningly charismatic role, Huss is practically throwing a city-wide parade. He’s the wildcard id thrown in to stir the pot at just the right moment to kick things over into the next level.
Carnahan spins a lot of plates in this single-location thrill ride. Yet, unlike previous films such as “Smokin’ Aces,” which became far too unwieldy with its myriad characters and plotlines, “Copshop” shows a director achieving a newfound maturity in his storytelling. That balance is equalized on the character front by Louder’s Valerie Young, the green police officer who unknowingly finds herself pitched between these two violent enemies who are ready to strike. Valerie provides a crucial center and Louder grounds the film in just the right way that allows the heightened elements to play as delectable side dishes instead of overpowering the main course.
As a filmmaker, Carnahan has navigated a fascinating career arc, struggling to find the right way to connect with audiences. He broke out early with the tremendous two-hander “Narc” before going big and loud with “Smokin’ Aces” and the quite underrated “The A-Team.” He hit his critical peak with “The Grey,” a misunderstood existential winter thriller that was incorrectly marketed as “Liam Neeson fights wolves,” before dropping the totally forgotten “Stretch” and then disappearing for the rest of the decade. “Boss Level” was an awkward return that would have understandably led viewers to question if the director had lost his mojo in all these years away from the director’s chair. “Copshop” is the wake-up call to let us know that he’s back and it’s time to have fun at the movies again.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Carnahan finds his groove again, with a pitch-black action thriller elevated by a wonderful quartet of eccentric characters in single-location mayhem.
THE OSCARS – None