Film Review – Copshop
Copshop (2021) has an intriguing premise. Con artist Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo) – on the run after crossing the wrong people – decides that the best place to hide would be a small Nevada jail. He assaults a couple of officers and gladly offers himself up to be put behind bars. However, Teddy’s safe zone gets disrupted when hitman Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler) – on the hunt for Teddy – lands in the very next cell pretending to be a drunk driver. So, the conman and the assassin sit face to face on opposite ends of the room, trying to figure out how to kill each other and escape their confinement.
On paper, this makes for a compelling little scenario, and for the first act director Joe Carnahan (who cowrote the screenplay with Kurt McLeod) sets up the stakes well. The narrative takes place almost entirely inside the precinct, with both the criminals and the cops scheming against each other. While the film is advertised as an action comedy, it starts out as a battle of smarts. With Teddy and Bob locked in the same room but separated, they play a game of cat and mouse only through their wits. Caught in the middle is rookie cop Valerie (Alexis Louder) who wants to do things by the book but quickly realizes that when you play with crooks the rules are always broken.
I don’t mind movies that feature bad people. In fact, characters that don’t abide by the law are often the most interesting to follow. But the important thing is that there must be something – anything – that makes us care about what happens to them. Something that makes tagging along worth it. That is not the case with Copshop. The potential of the first act fizzles away as we learn just how despicable Teddy and Bob are. They operate on surface level motivations. Teddy is all about saving his own skin. He will say and do anything if it’s for his own benefit. Give the man a gun and he’ll be a cold-blooded killer like everyone else. Bob may be worse. Gerard Butler plays Bob like a disgruntled plumber just trying to do a job. The fact that he is so passive about being a hitman oddly makes him more repellent.
Carnahan’s direction combined with the cinematography (Juan Miguel Azpiroz), editing (Kevin Hale), and music (Clinton Shorter) structures the plot as a kind of dark exploitation thriller. We get scenes where a funky soundtrack accompanies acts of gruesome violence. This is a world where cops (including Valerie) pass the time by playing with their guns like a western standoff. Once the central point of tension is created, the production wanders about trying to fill time before the mayhem of the second half ensues. We get flashback scenes in which Teddy narrates events leading up to his arrest. Given that he’s a conman, much of what we see must be taken with a grain of salt – we don’t know if he’s telling the truth or lying. The flashbacks come randomly and don’t add much substance to Teddy’s character or the plot itself.
Things turn truly nihilistic with the introduction of yet another hitman, Anthony Lamb (Toby Huss). Where Teddy and Bob can at least maintain a conversation, Anthony is a cartoonish psychopath. Hired by competing bosses to get rid of Teddy, Anthony comes in guns blazing, shooting down anybody that comes within his sight. Sporting a heavy accent, a supervillain mustache, and a machine gun, Anthony feels like he came out of an entirely different movie. This is not a knock on Toby Huss’ abilities as an actor – in fact I’m willing to bet that he had a lot of fun playing such an over-the-top role. But the writing and direction does not give the character enough definition – he stands out like a sore thumb. Where everyone else at least plays their parts believably within this context, not once did I think of Anthony as anything other than an exaggeration.
Loyalty and trust play as major themes. This is mostly exemplified by Valerie. Visually and symbolically, she is placed right between Teddy and Bob. Sitting in a chair between the two cells, Valerie is caught in a tug of war. Frank argues to let him go so he can avoid getting killed. Bob maintains that if he doesn’t finish the job, things will only get worse for everybody. Valerie turns around and around, struggling to decide whom to believe. It’s not exactly the best position to be in, but when things turn desperate, Valerie is forced to make a choice. This is the most compelling aspect of Copshop – I would have gladly watched this back and forth for the entire runtime.
Sadly, Carnahan and his team are not able to maintain that momentum. Copshop starts out strong but doesn’t capitalize on its early potential. Despite its action, violence and tough attitude, the movie is strangely safe and mundane. It devolves into yet another forgettable shoot ‘em up, leaving no lasting impact despite its trail of bodies.