It’s Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo in a Joe Carnahan flick, and all three are credited producers as well. Even if Copshop turns out to be a disaster, you know it sure as hell won’t be boring. So let’s see what we’ve got.
Our stage is set at the police headquarters of Gun Creek, a fictional Nevada backwater. Which means this particular building is in the middle of a desert, and the entire county is basically full of nothing. This means in turn that there isn’t much for law enforcement to do, so the cops are crooked and/or incompetent. The one exception is Valerie Young (Alexis Louder), an officer so fresh to this particular precinct that she still has her skill and integrity about her.
(Side note: The film loses points for consistently pronouncing it “Nev-AW-da”. My dad was born and raised in Vegas, and he vocally insists at every opportunity that it’s pronounced like “Nebraska”. Quit trying to make “Nevada” sound fancier than it is, dammit!)
Our story kicks off with the arrival of Teddy Murretto, played by Frank Grillo. To make a long story as short and spoiler-free as I can, Teddy is a self-serving snitch who pissed off some wealthy and powerful individuals in the organized crime of Las Vegas. Thus the mobsters hired an assassin (Bob Viddick, played by Gerard Butler) to take him out.
Running for his life, Teddy crosses paths with our Officer Young and gets the bright idea of sucker-punching her. The plan was to get himself locked up safely in a police station, you see. Unfortunately, Bob then poses as a drunk driver to get himself locked up in the selfsame police station, and he’s got a plan to get himself out so he can kill Teddy.
While that’s going on, we’ve got a crooked cop (Huber, played by Ryan O’Nan), who’s secretly getting blackmailed by the same Las Vegas mobsters who sent Viddick. Even worse, we’ve got another mob hitman (Anthony Lamb, played to the rafters by Toby Huss) come to collect the bounty on Teddy’s life, only this one’s a bona fide psychopath who doesn’t care about collateral damage.
In summary, what we’ve got here is a bunch of cops and hitmen trying to kill each other on their way to killing Teddy, with an unwitting Officer Young caught in the crossfire between all of them.
I have a difficult time writing about this one, partially because the premise is so straightforward. Convoluted politics aside, this is an action movie set inside a police station, so we’ve got hitmen and police officers killing each other with more than enough weapons and ammo lying around for everyone. The action set pieces practically write themselves.
But then we’ve got the holding cells, deliberately kept isolated from the rest of the station. This is more or less the “safe zone” of the movie, with little in the way of gunfire or fisticuffs. Instead, the scenes within the holding cells are primarily focused on suspense, as Teddy and Bob try to outthink and outmaneuver each other. Perhaps more importantly, as Young is backed into a corner and her hapless colleagues either die or turn evil, she has to make a choice as to which of these two — if either — she’s willing and able to trust to help her out.
Which brings me to another reason why this is a tough movie to write about: I can’t figure out much in terms of a message or a theme. To be clear, that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t have heart. The characters have genuine pathos here, most especially with regards to Teddy’s son and ex-wife (in perpetual danger, natch) and Officer Young’s stubborn yet apparently futile pursuit of justice. Even the transparently corrupt Officer Huber is treated with some degree of compassion as a good man forced to do bad things because he was stupid enough to get caught up in a mafia scheme.
It’s certainly not a brainless film, either. Granted, most of the characters are so incredibly stupid that the plot couldn’t function if they were halfway competent. And I was irked by how many characters survived injuries that clearly should’ve been fatal — at one point, a character all but came back from the fucking dead. Even so, the plot is clever enough that there was clearly a brain at work here.
Perhaps most importantly, I know that the film must have some kind of theme because it clearly has a moral compass. Trouble is, that moral compass is impressively fucked up.
I’ve already spoken at length about the cops who are incompetent, self-serving, crooked, cruel, apathetic, stupid, or otherwise unworthy to wear the badge. Compare that to Officer Young, a policewoman of unwavering integrity who will always do the right thing and live up to the standards of her job, regardless of consequences. And she absolutely suffers for that — it’s mentioned on numerous occasions that all this bloodshed could’ve been averted if she had simply looked the other way and let Bob kill Freddy in the first place. Even so, the movie firmly places Young as the hero, the protagonist, the moral arbiter, and the beating heart of the movie. And without getting into too many spoilers, she keeps on going long after so many of her colleagues have suffered bloody, painful, screaming deaths.
On the criminal’s side, we’ve got Bob Viddick and Anthony Lamb. I think the difference between them was best stated by Bob himself: Bob’s a professional, and Anthony is a psychopath. Anthony takes unbridled glee in murdering people, while Bob treats it as strictly business. Though he’s entirely capable of straight-up killing pretty much anyone, Bob never does it without reason or without warning. Bob can be counted on to keep his word, and he can be reasoned with under specific circumstances. None of which can be said for Anthony Lamb, that unhinged homicidal maniac. And again, there’s a reason why Bob is positioned as a prominent lead character while Anthony was designed and portrayed to be a hate sink.
In summary, what we’ve got here is a movie about the duality of cops and criminals, how both sides are equally capable of corruption and mayhem, yet they’re both capable of acting with integrity and honor. This is certainly nothing groundbreaking and the delivery is nothing innovative (Heat is still probably the greatest crime thriller in recent memory with this particular theme, though The Departed is another exemplary masterpiece), but it gets the job done.
But where does Teddy land on this particular binary? Well, that’s the big question. The way this character is built, he could easily go either way. The only thing that’s certain is that Teddy will do what’s best for Teddy. Even so, it’s genuinely compelling to watch the character, wait and see who he sides with, and how he’ll generally fuck up the best laid plans of everyone else in the building.
Most of the cast is there to be disposable, but there are a few highlights worth mentioning. I appreciate the sweaty anxiety that Ryan O’Nan brought in to imbue Huber with some measure of compassion and dimension. Toby Huss is an absolute riot as Anthony Lamb, perfectly riding the line between hilarious and terrifying.
But then we have Alexis Louder, in the pivotal role of Officer Valerie Young.
On the one hand, I want to give all due credit to the filmmakers for bringing in a relatively unknown black woman to play our protagonist, and directly acknowledging the character’s race without making a major issue of it. I also appreciate that Louder brought in more than enough grit and attitude to liven up what could’ve been a stock and boring character. Young is a character who’s genuinely satisfying to root for, and Louder deserves great credit for that.
Even so, the fact remains that she spends most of the film in a triad with Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo. These are two actors playing well within their comfort zones, pulling from decades of experience playing similar roles in similar films, and they’re acting off each other even as Louder is in the scene. Don’t get me wrong, Louder more than proves herself a talented actor, but she simply wasn’t cut out to hold the screen against these two co-leads in this particular movie.
(To name just a few examples, I might’ve been interested to see Morena Baccarin or Emily Blunt in that particular role. If we have to keep it a black woman, get KiKi Layne or Tessa Thompson in there — they’ve both proven that they have the action chops and dramatic skills to hold their own.)
When all is said and done, Copshop is a Joe Carnahan flick, and to overthink it in search of any deeper meaning is probably to miss the point entirely. For better or worse, this is a movie as direct, primal, bloody, and simple as a sledgehammer to the forehead. If you’re looking for a Carnahan flick that pushes some boundaries and makes some big life statements to go with the dazzling set pieces, check out Boss Level. But if you’re looking for something straightforward and disposable, an enjoyable yet forgettable way to pass a bit of time that doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence (too much), then go ahead and give this one a try.