On the run from a lethal assassin, a wily con artist devises a scheme to hide out inside a small-town police station-but when the hitman turns up at the precinct, an unsuspecting rookie cop finds herself caught in the crosshairs.
It’s all very well working on the assumption that your enemy’s enemy is your friend, but what if both of them are your enemy and are also pretending to be your friend?
That’s the situation Valerie Young (Alexis Louder) finds herself in, half way through Copshop, with two criminals trying to whisper in her ear.
She’s a cop in the otherwise all-male Gun Creek Police Department who one night brings in Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo), a “mob flunky conman” who seems to want to be arrested. Next in is Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler, an entertaining, grubby foil to Grillo’s lean, nervy Teddy), an allegedly drunk John Doe who’s actually a hitman after Teddy. Later they’re joined by the final member of their unholy trinity, psychopathic assassin Anthony “Tony” Lamb (an eye-poppingly crackers Toby Huss).
Presumably with those three inside the crime level outside in Gun Creek City dropped significantly, though indoors it’s about to hit the roof.
Watching Copshop gives you the kind of dopamine surge you get from eating a massive donut while hiding behind a sanctimonious tome on clean eating. This is a lurid, sweaty, wisecracking B-movie, and I loved every minute of it. Extremely violent, as in all the best snarky crime thrillers characters either die in quick succession, or somehow survive being fired at with way more bullets than were strictly necessary. Sometimes they stop to chat, and sometimes it turns out one of them didn’t get the “honour among thieves” memo.
With its trio of criminals oozing around each other like grubby slime, Louder, as Valerie, is superb; an always-compelling presence from the film’s first scene, whether playing fearful or fearless. In a film with only two women characters in it (Tracey Bonner appears later as a Vegas detective), Louder does considerably more than simply hold her own against Butler, Grillo and Huss. It’s a superbly confident exploration of a woman who isn’t always confident as she’s forced to decide which of all these career criminals might be telling the truth and who might help her get out alive.
Valerie is capable, committed and sharp, but also thoughtful, learning as she goes, filing away every single experience for when she needs it again in future, even — especially — if she initially screwed up. As the story unfolded I was never sure what she was going to do, as she wasn’t sure what she was going to do.
With terrific support for its central foursome from Chad L. Coleman as department sergeant Mitchell, and Ryan O’Nan as fellow cop Huber, director Joe Carnahan (he also co-wrote the screenplay) has crafted a supremely watchable movie. At one hour 47 minutes it powers along, moving easily between flashback, snark and splatter.
The Tarantino-meets-’70s TV show vibe is strong: blue and red neon opening credits, cheery soundtrack, corruption, lumbering backroom cops, and criminals who are either sharply dressed or total slobs. If that sounds a lot, the closed-in world of the police department building just about contains the lairy ridiculousness.
Copshop is highly stylised, from Teddy’s flared suits to the wood-and-glass of the police department itself. Even the opening credits mimic the exact red and blue of the police car lights. Down in the holding area, the cells are floor to ceiling bars, and everything is in shades of dark blue. Sometimes we get a shot of the lonely police station sitting in the desert, the vast, inky night sky above dotted with sparkling stars.
This silent desert outpost, where inside all is mayhem, is a created, designed world that manages to be both grubbily realistic and entirely artificial at the same time (surely a mark of a great B-movie?) It’s far more of its own world than Butler’s crime thriller Den of Thieves, which — though bent cop Big Nick could be Viddick’s equally greasy twin — was grittier and anchored more in its city setting. Copshop possesses an awareness of image and how ludicrous it all is without ever sounding deliberately knowing. “Hard charges get charged hard”, says Bob enigmatically, before explaining it, then trailing off with a rather glum “that doesn’t sound as cool”.
Butler’s Viddick is an amused, violent hitman who gets the job done but with little in the way of finesse, surrounded not by the aroma of mystery but beer and BO (or worse — he “smells like Satan’s asshole” says the cop booking him in). Luckily — as I like my Hollywood lust-buckets to stay in their own lanes — Copshop is more like Home Alone: Assassin Edition than Desert John Wick. Though Teddy still considers him “the legendary Bob Viddick”, Bob doesn’t see killing as an art. Wick was known for killing three men in a bar with a pencil, Bob Viddick once beat a man to death with the victim’s own severed leg. Effective? Yes. Classy? Not really.
Teddy is a sleazy but sharp dresser, a flashback showing him emerging from an exploding car with his snakeskin boots untouched beneath a now-holey suit, all topped off by what Tony identifies as “one of male grooming’s greatest misfires — the man bun”. Tony is hardly qualified to give out style advice though, with his shiny yellow polo shirt under a nasty turquoise jacket.
With their utterly different looks and mutual loathing, the three of them resemble an ageing manufactured boyband who are only getting back together to tour the malls and earn enough for their divorces.
The film moves between goady chats among the men in the cells, cop banter above, and then loud, often gruesome violence. All three men hate each other — Viddick wants to chop off Tony’s head — but they also need to get past Valerie Young.
While they are firing bullets, pithy comments and snippets of back stories around and at Valerie, she is the real disruption, getting in their way of settling scores and earning bounties. She is always central though, whether pumping them for information or weighing up where she is, how she got here, and where she needs to get to.
Copshop was released in UK cinemas on 10 September and is out in US cinemas on 17 September 2021.
So is your enemy’s enemy your friend? Read my article Copshop: Who Is The Bad Guy? (warning: spoilers ahoy)
Watch the Copshop trailer and scroll down for a clip from the film:
Film clip: “Drop the gun…”