Copshop

Copshop has what probably looked like a good concept on paper. The way that concept is executed onscreen is a different matter. Director Joe Carnahan specializes in two-fisted tales of mostly bad people doing terrible things to one another. That's an apt description of this movie. Of the major characters, only one is a decent human being. Despite some clever twists and turns, though, a great big hole exists right in the center – one that needed to be filled in order for us to care about those twists and turns.

Around 97% of the movie takes place inside a police station. Con artist Teddy Murretto is arrested for sucker punching an officer and tossed into a cell. An assassin named Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler) intentionally gets himself arrested, too, so that he can get close to Teddy, whom he's been assigned to kill. Psychopathic hitman Anthony Lamb (Toby Huss) makes his way into the station, as well. And then there's Huber (Ryan O'Nan), a dirty cop working inside the precinct. Lots of lowlifes here.

In the middle of them all is rookie cop Valerie Young (Alexis Louder). Once Lamb enters the building and begins shooting the place up, she locks herself in the cell block with Teddy and Bob. Due to an injury sustained during the fracas, she's going to need one of them to help her in order to survive the mounting attack from Lamb and Huber. Deciding which one's agenda least negatively impacts her becomes the challenge. If she frees Bob, he's absolutely going to kill Teddy; if she frees Teddy, he's most certainly going to kill Bob. The question is whether either of them will not kill her in the process.

Copshop is at its best when it focuses on Valerie's dilemma. There's some sharply written dialogue as both men make their cases for themselves and against the other guy. As she weighs the options, the movie invites us to do likewise. In a scenario where almost everyone is a violent, duplicitous scumbag, who – if anyone – do you trust? These scenes carry weight thanks to the fierce performance from Alexis Louder, who shows us the wheels perpetually turning in Valerie's mind.

Whenever the movie veers away from her, it's on shakier ground. The tension between Bob and Teddy has something to do with the murder of a prominent Nevada politician, yet that whole connection is never made clear. How, precisely, Huber got wrapped up in everything is sketchy, too. As a sign of how poorly established the larger mystery is, there is an additional character who appears on the periphery a few times, only to return prominently toward the end. The re-appearance of this individual consequently feels like a cheap trick. Copshop hasn't made fully clear what they have to do with anything else.

Carnahan, as always, stages some effectively brutal sequences of violence, including an epic gunfight in the big climax. What he doesn't seem to get amid such chaos is that Valerie is the most interesting person in the story. Teddy and Bob are less so, while Lamb and Huber are outright caricatures. If all of the plot points weren't going to be satisfactorily explained, Copshop should have at least focused more exclusively on its strongest asset. You won't care if all the creeps die. Thanks to Louder, you will definitely care about Valerie. Streamlining the half-baked backstory and concentrating on her could have made this an Assault on Precinct 13 for the 21st century, as opposed to what it is – a mildly entertaining film that makes no lasting impact.


out of four

Copshop is rated R for strong/bloody violence, and pervasive language. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.