ST. LOUIS — Joe Carnahan and Frank Grillo go together like Chinese food and a warm blanket. The best friends and cinematic collaborators (and producing partners) have served up action dramas that feel different, yet remind you of cinema's old school sex appeal. Whether it's actually blowing up that car or a good old visual gag, you can literally feel the freak flag appeal sitting in your living room.
Well, consider the War Party duo two for two this year, because "Copshop," their latest flick, is a genuine blast.
First off, if you stage the largest chunk of your movie in a police precinct or jail, it's just about kettle corn territory for movie fans. Think of "Assault on Precinct 13" or any film with a nicely done action sequence, and you have the cocktail stirred just right.
Carnahan, who co-wrote the screenplay with Kurt McLeod, doesn't mess around with our attention spans or make us wait too long for the good times to begin. The hour and 48 minutes of screen time here is diced up wisely here--with Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo), a crafty (and deadly) con artist, getting himself purposefully locked up in jail, so he can escape the clutches of Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler), the hitman out to collect his head.
But it's Alexis Louder's tenacious cop who steals the show here. She represents the immovable pylon between Murretto and his freedom, all the while keeping Butler's killer at bay and dealing with incoming assassins (Toby Huss), who want a piece of Teddy for themselves.
NONE of this is overcooked for drama either. Think of "Copshop" as cinema's version of Ultimate Nachos: there's a little of everything here for action genre junkies. I'm talking about long, nicely-written brooding showdowns mixed with well-choreographed action that seems genuine and otherworldly at the same time. The cinematography has a few tricks up its sleeve, and the soundtrack absolutely slaps. Oh, and ladies who loved Butler's work in "Phantom of the Opera" should tune until the very end.
Butler is having a lot of fun here, getting to channel his man of action persona, but in a different light. He's not the hero, but he may not exactly be a villain either. Carnahan's cinema shops don't have clear-cut, hero-specific roles. I cheered harder for Ray Liotta's crooked cop than Jason Patric's dark avenger in "Narc." Liam Neeson's detached oil rig sniper wasn't exactly the most loveliest of men. People never talk about one of Ryan Reynolds' best roles, and that was in "Smokin' Aces." The methodology here is simple: good guys are boring, but anti-heroes kind of rule.
Grillo and Butler both let loose a little here, with the latter sporting a hairdo that may throw his Bring Back Kingdom fan club for a loop. But he sells it, just like he does in every single action role where he has a little more area to play with. It's not straight down the middle or a wicked curveball with Teddy. We never know what he is really up to. Is he really a victim of misfortune, with a hired gun out to get him? Or does he have more rage trapped inside him somewhere? Grillo and Carnahan keep it interesting and quick on its feet--which is exactly how every great action film should be.
It's not about Oscars or "LOOK at me" prosthetic ego around here; just old fashioned and escape. It's why we go to the movies.
Just remember the name: Mrs. Louder. Alexis (we had a brief Twitter back and forth, so we're on a first name basis, get over it) steals the show here as the badge standing between the guns. It's not just another last action hero defense, or something people would guess.
There's a sequence involving a password reset and highly resilient bulletproof glass that just hums, and it's all due to the laser-eyed focus of Louder. She keeps the boys in check here, sometimes joining the gun-drawing herself. A scene near the end with her, Grillo's wily con man, and a stolen lunch that plays with every dialogue-lover's senses.
Huss is a pleasure, as always. He doesn't show up until around halfway in, but you will know his name when his voice begins. He's just as cunning as anyone else, and not that easy to kill either. And he fires an insult involving a hot pocket that made me laugh all night. Wait for his wicked shot at Grillo's man bun look, comparing it to a "Tom Cruise movie nobody saw." It's not just lock, step, and key genre dining; it's steps above.
"Copshow" is in theaters Friday, which is exactly where you need to see it. Head over to the Galleria 6 Cinemas and tell them Buffa sent you.