Movies · Reviews

Cop Car Aims for Laughs and Thrills With Varied Success

By  · Published on January 26th, 2015

Focus World

When is a thriller not a thriller? When it works better as a flat-out comedy.

Harrison (Hays Wellford) and Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) walk across a field sharing curse words and stuffing gopher holes, and while they have no real destination in mind they’re okay with that. They’re runaways, at least as of an hour or so ago, and they’re out to have fun. The opportunity of a lifetime comes when they stumble across a cop car on a back road with no actual cop in sight. After eventually working up the nerve to approach the car it’s not long before they’re inside, and keys in hand they take the cruiser out for a test drive.

A flashback to the minutes before their arrival reveals Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) pulling up, swigging a beer and then dragging off a body he removes from the trunk. When he returns to find his car gone he’s forced to think fast in order to track down the thieves without drawing the attention of the more civil-minded officers on the force.

The setup has the makings of a suspenseful thriller, but while some of that comes into play later the initial focus is on capturing the spirited imagination of kids at play. Harrison and Travis are typical ten year-old boys, curious, fearless and oblivious to consequences. Their desire to put their Mario Kart skills to the test sends them at high speed onto a long stretch of road, and you can’t help but catch your breath when they start playing with the sheriff’s guns in an effort to test out the bullet-proof vest. They’re just as taken with the police tape though, and its a reminder of how kids see things with a far more open and innocent mind than we grown ups do. Dangerous weapons, harmless tools, they’re all just toys to people with imaginations and a lack of experience. The scenes of the pair playing around offer up a nostalgic feeling at first only to be shattered by the intrusion of our own knowledge and concerns as adults.

The sheriff’s half of the tale allows Bacon room to explore an exasperated bad guy at the end of his rope, and it’s clear he’s having fun in the process. Happily that sense of dangerous fun translates to the screen making for a slick first two-thirds as we laugh along with the boys and at the cop. A tone change in the final act is jarring, but that’s as it should be. The fun and games have to come to an end eventually, and there are consequences on both sides of the moral divide.

Director/co-writer Jon Watts’s second feature is a comedy for much of its run time as we move between the boys’ free-spirited adventure and the sheriff’s increasingly flustered efforts to find them. The final act takes a more dramatic turn, but until then the film coasts by on the playful bliss of youth and Bacon’s reveling in playing a vile character who’s not quite as put together and coordinated as he thinks. It’s a slight affair – fitting for its 87 minute duration – but the performances and humor make it an affair worth having.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.