‘Copshop’ Breaks Into Prison With Violently Stylish Gusto

Copshop” is the better kind of movie blender. It knocks off a typical checklist of action flick items including buffed men with guns, tough women with more guns, and a plot somehow involving the mob. Because director Joe Carnahan never loses his sense of humor during the proceedings, and because the cast hits the target, this becomes pure, enjoyable escapism. “For this one I loved the conceit of all of it being inside a police station with everyone trying to get one man. There was also the irreverence of these characters. They’re just brimming with personality and weirdness,” Gerard Butler told Entertainment Voice about his latest dive into adrenaline cinema.

The action this time is set out in the Nevada desert at the Gun Creek Police Department, just on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Conman Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo) is brought in after sucker-punching officer Valerie Young (Alexis Louder). Why such a slick operator would get himself arrested becomes all too clear when later that night, a mysterious drunk is hauled into the same cell space after being arrested for a DUI. That drunk is actually Bob Viddick (Butler), a hitman out to kill Teddy over unpaid debts to certain, powerful people. A verbal standoff intensifies between the two, with Young caught in the middle, not knowing who to trust. When another assassin, the savage Anthony Lamb (Toby Huss), arrives at the prison armed and loaded, all bloody hell breaks loose.

“Copshop” can almost feel like some official action star convention. Both Gerard and Grillo work nonstop and appear in some new title with explosions on the poster nearly every month. Yet this new offering stands out with its initial focus on satire and banter. It’s cheerfully sarcastic and Carnahan, director of films like “Narc” and “Smokin’ Aces,” gives it a visual exuberance. The screenplay by Carnahan and Kurt McLeod doesn’t reveal all its cards at once, so we’re kept guessing for much of the first and second act who Teddy really is, why Viddick wants him dead, and if Valerie should trust any of them (of course she shouldn’t). Essentially they battle for her soul. It’s that rare action movie that allows the actors’ richer acting talents to surface, at least briefly, before we’re reminded that Butler and Grillo are ripped and can fake neck snaps, knifings and jumping from police station rails well. The great revelation in this film is Alexis Louder, who has played secondary roles in other action films before, but here is placed front and center. She has the necessary edge and humor to pull it off. “I had a moment where I realized I had to balance that my character is there from the beginning to the end. I wanted to dive into the play of it all. We have a lot of phenomenal scenes where we’re giving a lot of information but it’s still riveting. I love how we introduce that into an action thriller,” Louder told Entertainment Voice. “I also met a lot with my stunt coordinator and practiced my gun slinging. I don’t own my own Blackhawk, so now I’m out of practice again (laughs).” 

Carnahan also avoids a lot of the overwrought CGI typical in many action productions in a post-MCU landscape. There’s an old-fashioned practicality to the action. This is the kind of movie where characters need to figure out codes to open doors amid intense gunfire. As the lead hero, Valerie is an expert at re-setting someone’s jaw and performing a tracheotomy with sparse tools. Sure, the dialogue is sometimes peppered with the kind of observations that make you wonder if Viddick was once a psychology major, since he can explain in precise detail to Valerie the difference between a psycho and a killer. But that also adds to the film’s sense of fun. “It’s a lot of fun. A lot of people think it’s like a ‘70s Tarantino-ish movie,” Grillo told Entertainment Voice. “Carnahan told me, ‘Don’t be the archetypical little sleazy guy.’ I said let me get some hair extensions, I’ll have this funky suit made, I’ll get snake-skin leather boots. I want the audience to want to punch me in the face. A lot of actors don’t to do that. They want to be like.”

As it should, the last minutes of “Copshop” are pure action nirvana. But even after all the smoke and flames, the movie does not lose its sense of humor. Two characters drive off into the sunset, the screen splits, and they begin to sing in unison to the radio. The aura of the set can come off on the screen and “Copshop” feels like a movie everyone had a good time making. Butler agrees. “Me and Frank Grillo have been friends for a long time. It’s quite funny that there’s such loathing for each other on screen, with such evil intentions. Then they yell ‘cut!’ and then you go, ‘hey where are you going tonight? Let’s go train together!’ It’s always funny working with a friend when you’re playing a foe.”

Copshop” releases Sept. 17 in theaters nationwide.