Copshop is a movie we don’t get much anymore. The mid- or low-budget action thriller just isn’t being made anymore or if it is it’s hitting a streaming platform with little to no fanfare. There’s a certain magic to this kind of film, though. A bit of fun without all the big budget or need to have seen 20 other films to understand what’s going on. You get a premise, people die, things explode, you leave the theater.
In the 70s you’d see this kind of film in a grindhouse doubleheader and, to be honest, most of them sucked. It’s hard to nail a low-budget action film because it can’t feel low-budget or else it’s just boring. You’ve got to be clever with it and know how to make your cheap shots (both literal and figurative) work. So does Copshop make it fun or does it fall into the trap of thinking that a bit of action is excuse enough?
Director: Joe Carnahan
Release Date: September 17, 2021 (Theatrical)
Copshop wears its grindhouse, budget action influences on its sleeve from its opening credit fonts to its quick and dirty setup. We rapidly meet Valerie Young (Alexis Louder), a rookie cop in Nevada with a love of six-shooters, working highway patrol in the middle of nowhere. While breaking up a fight she’s intentionally punched by Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo), who is trying to get arrested to stay safe from the crime bosses after him for flipping on them and stealing their money. Well, more specifically, the hitman they sent after him, Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler), who just happens to get himself arrested and put in the cell across from Grillo. With another hitman on the way, the body count starts building inside the station and Valerie has to figure out who exactly to trust.
While the film gets its pieces in place very rapidly it actually plays it as a “slow burn” for quite some time, setting up its characters a bit and giving us just enough background on the officers in the station before the murders start. The movie does a good job of establishing its characters, allowing it to play with your expectations a bit as it devolves into a blood bath shootout. Thankfully, the screenplay can surprisingly carry it well with just enough dialog to keep things interesting and the right pacing so that things pick up the moment they need to. That pacing is fast, this is a slow burn in name feel only, not execution.
Once the film gets really going, with the arrival of deranged hitman Anthony Lamb (Toby Huss), things turn into a total mess of blood and bullets. Director Joe Carnahan can keep the pace. In what is basically an enclosed base invasion for the latter half of the film he maintains a strong sense of space but more importantly just plays things simple. There’s nothing too flashy here, just good ol’ fashioned shootouts built on a nice level of tension. A well-executed penultimate conclusion in a dark locker room especially shines and it isn’t until the film’s final shootout that the movie’s budget starts to show.
Louder is a god damn action star. She shined in Watchmen but Copshop shows that she needs to be headlining action films or be put into a superhero suit right now. She commands the screen throughout the film and feels convincing during action sequences like few actors do. Put up against two large, lumbering “action” actors she is an effing rock on screen. Grillo and Butler play to type really well in the movie as well but it is Louder who steals the show and should be given the chance to steal many more of them.
Copshop works. It’s not high art and it isn’t a groundbreaking action cinema but, up until the slightly sloppy ending, it’s a tight bit of movie fun. It’s the kind of matinee film you’re glad you watched but might have been angry you spend $20 bucks on — a perfect call back to those cheap double features it mimics. With Louder leading and supported well by a tight cast, who knows what kind of film they’re making and plays into it, the film works.
And that’s a good sign because Carnahan is directing the American version of The Raid, which plays much the same way so maybe it won’t suck.