Cop Car (3 stars)

Cop Car

EIFF 2015: Kids-on-the-run thriller starring Kevin Bacon, directed by Jon Watts

Despite its compact scale and structure, this high-concept mini-thriller from writer-director Jon Watts packs in the references: the pre-teen trauma of Stand by Me is in there, as is Spielberg’s highway stand-off Duel, and the blackly comic crime capers of the Coen brothers.

The resulting concoction is a knowing exercise in audience manipulation that has some impressive sequences, but always feels rather more show-offy than sincere, lacking the tightness and wit that could have made it a minimalist triumph. It’s like watching someone’s film school graduation project – if Kevin Bacon had a habit of appearing in film school graduation projects, which, come to think of it, would have been a more credible career decision than those godforsaken mobile phone adverts.

Bacon plays Kretzer, a shifty small-town sheriff whose already rather complicated day is thrown into further chaos when his ve-hi-cle (don’t you love the way some Americans pronounce vehicle?) is appropriated by a couple of pre-teen runaways.

The child actors, James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford, are fine, and some elements, such as the simple, disciplined decision not to explain anybody’s back-story, and the sheer sense of ungoverned space evoked by the widescreen shots of endless Colorado roads and pastures, really work. But no back-stories didn’t have to mean no persuasive characters. Bacon is slapsticky where he could have been sinister, while the boys aren’t established enough in the early scenes to earn our emotional investment once it matters. A key character played by Camryn Manheim, meanwhile, is just a wasted opportunity – even slightly tighter writing could have made her the film’s comedic and emotional high point.

The intended slow-burn tension is sporadically present, although the sight of kids messing about with loaded weapons will shift many viewers out of edgy enjoyment and into genuine discomfort.

Screening on Fri 19 and Wed 24 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2015. General release TBC.

Cop Car

  • 3 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 1h 26min
  • Directed by: Jon Watts
  • Cast: Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Shea Whigham, Camryn Manheim

Two ten-year-old boys in a small American town go joyriding in a police patrol car, not knowing that shifty local sheriff Kretzer (Bacon) has some nasty secrets hidden in it. An interesting idea wasted by thin characterisation, lacking the tightness and wit that could have made it a minimalist triumph.