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15 cert, 107 min. Dir: Joe Carnahan
Copshop has a poster that bodes poorly. You get Gerard Butler scowling, Frank Grillo looking like an inscrutable roughneck, and pistols pointing everywhere in lurid primary colours. It says “sadistic action thriller for the boys” without actually coming out with it.
It also leaves off the name of the film’s secret weapon – third-billed Alexis Louder, who’s the first face we see, has more screen time than either of the men, and keeps the film fresh whenever she’s in charge. She plays Valerie, a young black cop in the aptly named Gun Creek, a small-town Nevada precinct boasting an implausibly huge state-of-the-art lock-up to contain whatever reprobates or DUI suspects they’ve recently collared.
These holding cells are soon the domain of Teddy Murretto (Grillo), a con artist whose luck has expired, and a hitman called Viddick (Butler), who pretends to be drunk behind the wheel, purely to sneak in and have a crack at the other man. None of the half-dozen officers on duty are any the wiser, except the corrupt one who knows the score. And also except, bit by bit, for Valerie, who smells a rat more quickly than most.
Copshop has a certain sub-Tarantino appeal, which is very much the way director Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smokin’ Aces, The A-Team, The Grey) wants to play it. The soundtrack majors in 1970s funk, and there’s a penchant for banter in the script which suggests someone has read a few Elmore Leonard novels in their time, even if they don’t always have the wit to emulate that mode as well as you’d hope.
Butler has his moments as an amoral loose cannon, and Grillo’s OK. But in the dingy stretches when the two of them just pace around behind bars, characterisation stalls out, while we kill time debating the meaning of “déjà vu”, “parlay” and other boutique idioms. Hmmm.
Thankfully, Louder’s around to break up this uneven chitchat and give us a charismatic centre to root for. For several punchy reels, Carnahan shakes the story along with the right kind of Assault on Precinct 13 vigour, especially when a psychotic, middle-aged criminal played to the hilt by Toby Huss turns up to shred the place, and a sweating mess of an officer called Huber (Ryan O’Nan) shows his true colours.
On a good day, Carnahan’s genre chops can put you in mind of someone like the action veteran Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hours). Like Hill’s films, which became hit and miss over the years, Carnahan’s pan out best when they’re contained and prowling, focused on getting the job done.
Copshop goes in for some flashy stuff at the end that Hill would deride as over-the-top, and when it makes Louder sit tight with a bullet wound, a lot of the film’s air leaks out for damaging chunks of time. Still, it’s a stronger proposition all-round than you’re necessarily expecting – debatably the best Gerard Butler flick among a catalogue of forgettables, even if it’s not really his flick at all.