Despite Good Action Scenes, New Movie Copshop Is a Flop

Copshop? More like Copflop. Copshop needs to Copstop. Copshop doesn’t come out on Coptop. Copshop is a Copout. Don’t hate me. With a title as terrible as Copshop, I’m almost required to throw bad puns at it.

Okay, the title sucks, but is the movie itself really that bad?

Well, no, though it’s not great either. But let’s back up a bit first. Y’know what kind of action sequence I love? The really overly dramatic shootout. Lots of slow-motion. Rain or some other source of water dropping like pellets on the squinting combatants. Glass shattering to smithereens. Heavily processed gunfire thumping the bass. You get the idea. Copshop, that awfully titled new movie from hard-boiled auteur Joe Carnahan, has a scene like that, and it’s pretty marvelous. Too bad you have to sit through a lot of macho, Tarantino-esque bullshit to get to it.

Frank Grillo stars as Teddy Murretto, a fixer who doesn’t like to be called that. Why isn’t made clear. Probably just one cliché covering up another cliché. Teddy’s double crossed the mob, or something. Flashbacks are provided, but don’t generate much information or interest. The mob is faceless and nameless. Just a nebulous excuse to have the protagonist on the run. But on the run he is when his shot-up car craps out, stranding him in the middle of nowhere, Nevada. With a ruthless assassin, Bob Viddick, played with typical guttural bravado by Gerard Butler, baring down on him, Teddy takes desperate action and punches a police officer to get himself thrown in jail. Little does he know that the hired killer is going to use the same trick, getting himself arrested as well and ending up in a cell across from him. A cat and mouse game ensues as the rest of the movie unfolds inside the police station.

Copshop is basically a one location movie.

The production design by Jon Billington is good, though, providing plenty of spaces lined with glass, chrome, and concrete to be properly destroyed once the fireworks begin. While contemporary, Copshop also opts for a bit of ‘70s retro style. It works best in the energetic opening credits set to Lalo Schifrin’s propulsive Magnum Force theme with the title splashed across the screen in a giant font that elicits memories of action pictures from the Me Decade.

Carnahan’s movies tends to have good production design. They also tend to have a lot of tough guy posturing and a thumbing of the nose at political correctness. He has his fans. I’m not really one of them. His movies have potential but fall short in one way or another. Copshop is no different.

The closest I came to enjoying a Carnahan joint was Boss Level from just a few months back (though whether or not the finished film was his vision is up for debate). While fun, Boss Level was still far from perfect. One of its biggest problems was how it wasted its female lead. Naomi Watts, a lauded, terrific actress, was there just to be fridged.  Carnahan, to his credit, goes in the total opposite direction with Copshop (Ugh, that title). You see, even though the movie is dude-heavy, the actual stealth lead is a woman, the cop whom Teddy initially assaulted. A tough, self-reliant officer played with fierceness by Alexis Louder, Valerie Young is the underdog using her wits and strength to survive the manly chaos around her.

Estrogen standing toe to toe with toxic testosterone is a welcome touch. It’s too bad, though, that I never particularly enjoyed being around any of the characters these hormones belonged to. If you have an affection for B action pictures like I do, Frank Grillo’s starring role will elicit a smile. That smile fades, though, when you realize that Grillo doesn’t have much to do other than wearing a greasy man bun and a ‘70s suit complete with flared bell bottoms while sitting in a jail cell pleading over and over to be let out. When trying to convince skeptics of Grillo’s awesomeness, this is not the movie I’m going to point to for proof.

The movie is mostly about setting up its third act,

with the entertainment factor relying largely on the dialogue between the leads that’s supposed to be punchy (and yes, some of it did elicit a smile or two), but mostly comes off as trying too hard. A pleasingly over-the-top Toby Huss comes in as another, much more psychotic, hitman and livens up the picture with some mayhem. That mayhem, though, becomes depressing quick. This is less an action movie and more of a violence movie: Just watching a bunch of characters getting mowed down indiscriminately, often pleading for their lives before being brutally dispatched.

Once Teddy does find a way out of his cell…well, things do get a bit more interesting, but also a lot more muddled. Carnahan and cowriter, Kurt McLeod, try to play with expectations, making the main characters a bit different from what they initially seemed and having things happen that you may not be expecting. It works for a little bit, but as the movie keeps pulling the rug out from under the characters and our expectations, it eventually just pulls the rug out from under itself with an improbable reveal that undercuts its finale and any sort of release it’s been building up to. The screen fades to black, you shrug, but then it fades back in again and tries to undo itself yet again. By then, I just wanted the movie to fuck right off.

At least that one shoot-out was pretty sweet.

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Pavel Klein

Pavel Klein is a member of the Florida Film Critics Circle and author of the film-centric blog