like Pulp Fiction’s throwback hitmen, Joe Carnahan – one of the main names in the post-Tarantino wave of brash, trash-talking crime pictures – is still out there plying his trade. And given the current yen for all things 90s and 00s, this claustrophobic but concussive thriller, packed with smart-aleck dialogue, might just put him back on the cinematic map. (2011’s wolf-hunt outing The Grey was his last major hit.)
Nevada police rookie Valerie (Alexis Louder) is comparing firearms with her station chef when they’re called to a casino. Caught in a fracas outside, she’s socked on the chin by Teddy Muretto (Frank Grillo), who is weirdly OK with being Tasered and dragged off to county lock-up. But he’s not the only local lowlife keen to be incarcerated. A few hours later, some patrolmen bring in a sozzled hobo (Gerard Butler) who nearly ran them over, and lock him up in the cage opposite Muretto’s.
The hobo turns out to be Bob Viddick, an assassin aiming to ice Muretto, who is a rogue conman formerly on the books of a local crime syndicate. After a laggard opening, Carnahan keeps this huit clos nailbiter – set almost entirely inside the police station, and largely in the cellblock – lean and mean. Unlike Tarantino, he hasn’t matured into alt-history or love letters to the cinema medium itself, but this allows him to unfussily furnish us with satisfying basics: neat situational setups and payoffs (Valerie’s antique choice of weaponry), gratuitous violence (copious and frequent), pop-culture fetishes (Curtis Mayfield).
Butler, an actor who seems perpetually in danger of being consumed by his own beard, is reliably hard-bitten. Louder, also seen this year in The Tomorrow War, is a find: possessed of a hyper-calm, faux-naive diction which she uses to stamp her authority. But Grillo feels miscast: an adequately tough foil for Butler, but one-dimensional as a sociopathic grifter. It robs Copshop of character differentiation, and more meaningful moral shadings, when the pair argue their case about which of them deserves to be freed by the beleaguered police officer.
If that confines Copshop to the genre film lane, it’s still a film directed with a vaulting B-movie energy, down to a classy coda. There’s also a sharp setpiece involving operating a nine-digit keypad under great pressure; a digital-age predicament everyone can identify with.
Copshop is in cinemas from 10 settembre.