Copshop (United States, 2021)

September 17, 2021
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Copshop Poster

During the mid-1990s, in the wake of Quentin Tarantino’s unlikely ascent, the movie landscape was suddenly populated by all manner of Pulp Fiction wannabes. Some were better than others. Joe Carnahan got his start with one of these, 1998’s Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane (which was also compared to Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi). Over the course of his two-plus decades of movie (and TV) making, Carnahan hasn’t veered much from this track and, although Copshop may not be his most successful outing, it’s among the best Tarantino-influenced thrillers to have made it to theaters in the last quarter-century.

Tarantino is probably best known for four elements: ripe dialogue replete with profanity, sudden bursts of violence, surprise twists, and a copious use of (sometimes obscure) old pop songs. With Copshop, Carnahan nails the first three of those (while fully ignoring the fourth). After a slow-burn first hour, the movie cranks up the octane with plenty of blood, guts, and bullets. The final 20 minutes feel a little sloppy, with one twist too many and an unfocused ending that may be optimistically hinting at a sequel, but everything else is solid.

The star is not Gerard Butler, although he’s the biggest name in the cast. Instead, it’s Alexis Louder, who plays police officer Valerie Young, a.k.a. The Only Likable Character In The Whole Damn Movie. She’s one of the cops on duty when two criminals are brought in. The first is Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo), who has such a big price on his head that he thinks the safest place to be is in jail. The other is Bob Viddick (Butler), who everyone assumes to be a drunk until he shrugs off the falling-down act and starts engaging in none-too-friendly banter with Teddy. It seems that Bob is an infamous assassin and Teddy is his target. As an audience, we’re waiting for the inevitable showdown. Valerie has a front-row seat that eventually becomes much more.

Carnahan ups the ante by adding a second killer into the mix. While Bob considers himself to be “a professional,” he describes his rival, Anthony Lamb (Toby Huss), as “a psychopath.” Certainly, things get bloodier once Anthony (“Call me Tony”) enters the stationhouse. Also thrown into the mix are subplots involving an assassinated Attorney General (we are fed the pertinent information via TV news reports) and Ryan O’Nan as a corrupt cop who is apparently working for the same people that hired Anthony, although he’s behind the latter man in his number of kills (for anyone keeping score).

Copshop does everything it needs to do to keep the viewer invested for its sub-two-hour running time. The interplay among Valerie, Bob, and Teddy is laced with suspense and, although the content of the dialogue doesn’t rise to Tarantino levels, the rhythm is there. The explosion of violence comes as a relief valve, releasing the tension in an orgiastic expulsion. Valerie is an appealing mix of tough-as-nails and vulnerability. Although the film may be assembled around the confrontation between Teddy and Bob, she represents Copshop’s heart and the movie is largely presented from her point-of-view. There are times when she seems a little like John McClane in the first Die Hard – an ordinary person forced by circumstances to do some extraordinary things.

One of the most interesting aspects of Copshop is the way Butler, the go-to hero of B-grade action movies, allows himself to slip into a supporting role. By subverting expectations (many will go in expecting him to be front-and-center), Butler is able to do and say things that result in a deliciously ambivalent character. Bob doesn’t have much of an arc but he’s a lot more interesting than the run-of-the-mill killing machine. And he plays well off both his co-stars, Frank Grillo and Louder.

Although it’s unlikely that Copshop is going to pack viewers into theaters during a pandemic, the movie wasn’t terribly expensive to make (proof that one doesn’t have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on an action-thriller) and it will likely play as well at home as in a multiplex seat. This is an example of the kind of film we need more of. It also gives us something we don’t see a lot of – a black, female hero going toe-to-toe against three white Type A bad guys. Tarantino fans recognize that the director’s approach to picking and developing projects can create long breaks. Copshop is the kind of film than can help fill those gaps.

Copshop (United States, 2021)

Director: Joe Callahan
Cast: Gerard Butler, Frank Grillo, Alexis Louder, Toby Huss, Ryan O’Nan
Home Release Date: 2021-12-07
Screenplay: Kurt McLeod and Joe Callahan
Cinematography: Juan Miguel Azpiroz
Music: Clinton Shorter
U.S. Distributor: Open Road Films
Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Release Date: 2021-09-17
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Action/Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1