Kicking off this year’s NEXT FEST (the LA-set sister film festival to Sundance), Cop Car is being touted as a must-see for “midnight thriller” cinephiles. A corrupt cop, two rebellious kids, and a stolen police vehicle make up this dark little comedy that proves to be one of summer’s top coming-of-age thrillers. Premiering this past Sunday at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (a fitting location for added creepiness), the tense cinematic sequences that Cop Car organically conjures up were felt long after the film’s brisk 86 minute run time.

Kevin Bacon, who stars in the set-up opposite the film’s two young leads, shows off his devilish comedic chops as the mustachioed and corrupt county sheriff, Kretzer. Bacon doesn’t appear in the film’s initial scenes, a job left to newcomers James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford, who play young runaways and best friends Travis and Harrison. The boys, moseying through the picturesque Colorado plains while one-upping each other in an innocent-enough swear-off as they look for more adventure, find just that in an abandoned cop car in the middle of nowhere. With an empty beer bottle on the roof and the keys in between the seats, the boys take off on a joyride that every young kid dreams of.

Perhaps that’s just the power of Kevin Bacon, but I’d like to think it comes from the undeniable magic that happens when a talented actor is matched with an as equally talented and creative director like the promising Watts.

 

Donuts, burnouts, and speeding make for a very entertaining montage sequence, but it’s not until the owner of the car comes back to claim it (shown in a brief flashback to the moment said driver leaves the car), and realizes it’s missing, when the tension (and comedy) hits. The car belongs to Sheriff Kretzer, and, past his comedic confusion, he is not happy. After some illegal activity leads him away from the car in the first place, he is left immobile and alone in the vast countryside, and determined to get his car back (as the trunk is learned to be holding precious cargo) quickly and in one piece – a fate he doesn’t hold for the rest of the parties involved.

Cop Car is a reflection of a successfully made, true independent film. With its limited budget, seen in its rural-set locations and single-day narrative, director Jon Watts manages to produce something small and wonderful. It’s no wonder why Watts was chosen to direct the forthcoming Spiderman reboot. This small scale production produces high stakes horror, and while Watts sets us up with the perfect scenario and tone reminiscent of the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men, it is the actors that truly drive the story home. Kevin Bacon is selfish, evil, and lacks empathy, yet I still found myself rooting for him. Perhaps that’s just the power of Kevin Bacon, but I’d like to think it comes from the undeniable magic that happens when a talented actor is matched with an as equally talented and creative director like the promising Watts.

For some, however, this tightly wrapped story may leave some important questions unanswered after the film cuts to black. Why were the kids running away in the first place? What ultimately happened to Sheriff Kretzer? Did the boys make it out ok? I don’t believe these facts are detriment to the film’s success; in fact, it makes for a perfect setup for Cop Car 2. Now that’s one sequel I’d like to see.

Cop Car opens at the ArcLight Hollywood this Friday.