Connect with us


Cop Car | Review

Riding in Cars with Cops: Watts’ Thriller Offers Low Yield Excitement

cop_car_posterJon Watts continues in the B-grade vein showcased in his 2014 Eli Roth starring debut, Clown (which wasn’t released in theaters stateside). Starring a couple notable genre stalwarts and featuring a pair of surprisingly varied child characters eliciting the film’s greatest moments of tension thanks entirely to their naiveté, Cop Car reaches its dramatic simmer early on only to evaporate well before its inevitable finale. Though this scenario could have easily played for over-the-top kicks, especially with signature star Kevin Bacon in the villainous lead, Watts and his co-scribe Christopher D. Ford stick to the straight and narrow bits, and the film feels like it would have been a cheapie, knock-off noir from several decades past, a vehicle headlined by someone like Lee J. Cobb.

Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford) travel across an isolated field, exchanging a litany of cuss words. As they cover all the basics, we discover they’ve both run away from home, each for their own specific reasons. They accidentally stumble upon a parked cop car in an isolated glen, and tentatively explore the scene. With no one around, they approach, and soon enter the unlocked car, discovering keys under the mirror. Thrilled, they take off with the car. We back up in time to see the car’s owner, the local sheriff Mitch Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) doing something he’s not supposed to be doing. Needless to say, it is imperative the sheriff obtains his car before anyone discovers some of the things in it.

Watts does an impressive job capturing the idiotic behavior of wayward adolescents quite effectively. It’s initially easy to dismiss Travis and Harrison as a pair of typical, doltish kids deserving of comeuppance, yet Watts and Ford manage to guide us to empathy for them as this draws on. They are, after all, just kids, and though they make very few logical choices in Cop Car, they are hardly deserving of the hand fate deals them.

With the exception of a few off-the-cuff details about the stagnant home life they’re both fleeing from, we never learn much about them, something lending Cop Car an interesting flair, yet robbing it of a certain potency that would have turned its final compelling act into a much more galvanizing moment (aided significantly by the film’s score). The well-kept Kevin Bacon remains an arresting presence, but he has little to do beyond desperately attempt to cover his tracks. While the sheriff is a straightforward bad apple, it would’ve been nice to learn the extent of his villainy.

The underrated character actor Shea Whigham adds a much needed jolt of zany energy in the latter half of the film, but an awkwardly placed Camryn Manheim only seems distracting. However, despite its rare mix of bloody violence and children, not much unexpected transpires, and so, Cop Car manages only to feel like a highly medicated thriller, numbed to the core.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

Click to comment

More in Reviews

To Top