One of the most enjoyable experiences offered at Sundance 2015, was Jon Watts’ Cop Car, co-written with Robot & Frank scribe, Christopher D. Ford. The film follows two boys, Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford), who find and commandeer a cop car whilst the owner of the car, dirty cop Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) hunts them down.
Watts’ Cop Car can easily be broken down into two distinct inspirations but those inspirations don’t mar the piece in any way. Stand by Me and No Country for Old Men seem top of the pile, but only through particularly nostalgic sequences. Thankfully Cop Car has a distinct vibe of its own due to the unique blend of ideas and the comic compatibility of everything on screen. Bacon is an integral part of the film’s success, not quite camping it up, but maintaining a great persona from start to finish that never quite becomes out-and-out villainy.
With little adult influence, the film feels full of childish endeavour, be it the innocent actions of the two boys or the manipulations of Kretzer. Violence is executed perfectly, in a matter-of-fact way that fits the simple storytelling, sometimes clumsy, sometimes disastrous. Music appears sparingly, and not at all in the film’s dramatic finale where you half expect the Drive soundtrack to start firing over the end credits. The film is cautious of its premise, wary of potential pitfalls, and nicely balanced somewhere between neo-western and pulp comedy.
An impressive and highly controlled second feature from Watts, Cop Car feels like an effective short story: solid and rounded. It’s an entertainment piece evoking horror, tension, hilarity, and heart simply through its basic premise: a buddy road movie via 10 year olds. Wellford and Freedson-Jackson are an impressive duo and well up to the task of carrying a feature. Add Bacon’s ingenious turn as Kretzer and Shea Whigam’s preposterous appearance to the mix and the film surely can’t disappoint.
Cop Car is a blast of pulpy nonsensical ideals with great performances all round, minus the cult caricaturing. Horrifying at points, brave at others, always entertaining.