Click here for the flashback interview with Joe Carnahan and Frank Grillo for THE GREY.
There has rarely been such an effusive, even whimsical, satire on violence as that which is found in Joe Carnahan’s COPSHOP. This blackest of black comedies adroitly combines tension and goofiness with an insouciance that is nothing short of breathtaking. Gratuitous it may well be, but Carnahan has found a way to make a summary execution a welcome punchline designed to give his audience, keyed-up with the bloodbath it has just witnessed, the necessary relief, psychic and physical, of a hearty chortle while also keeping that same audience on the edge of its collective seat about what will happen next. It’s a neat trick, and if Joe has to go from Carnahan to Carnage-han to get there, so be it.
We begin in media res, with a bullet-riddled police car racing through the Arizona desert. At the wheel is Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo), an intense, lean man sporting a three-piece suite, a man-bun, snakeskin boots, and an incongruously bright blue satchel. The journey eventually leads him to a casino wedding that has devolved into fisticuffs where he sucker-punches Officer Valerie Young (Alexis Louder). Worse, she was already ticked off about having to cut short showing off her gunslinging skills to her sergeant (Christopher Michael Holley) in order to break up the wedding brawl.
If there was something odd about how Teddy seemed to court arrest, the next person to arrive at the Quinn Creek Police Station is an even more peculiar John Doe (Gerard Butler). He was driving under the influence when he ran two state troopers off the road, only to quickly sober up once put in the cell across from Teddy before making short work of his cellmate.
Thus begins a very long night at the eponymous copshop, where far-flung events will come to a head while competing with the in-house corruption and personality conflicts that fester in a place where, until now, nothing much has happened.
For all the bullets that fly, and bodies that are expertly roughed up by a John Doe who seems to know a great deal about physiology, the most gruesome bits are implied rather than shown. Even the tracheotomy that Young coolly performs registers mostly as gurgles and a breathing tube bubbling red and frothy. That does nothing to make the action viscerally intense. The twisting of limbs and dislocating of jaws is unsavory, but it’s nothing to the impossible choices Young will have to make over the course of the night about which of her prisoners she can trust more–or perhaps mistrust less–when an ebullient hit man, with the ironic name of Lamb (Toby Huss), arrives with a cocky smile and a startling proficiency in his chosen profession.
Huss may not have either charisma or even on socially redeeming quality aside from his work ethic, but it is his character’s job to be the bad guy in a film full of unsavory types. Butler and Grillo, on the other hand, are deliciously complex types, or, as John Doe explains to Teddy the difference in hitman types, he’s professional, Lamb is psychotic. A difference without a distinction perhaps, but it gives John a toehold in our sympathies, if only by comparison. Another neat trick. As for Teddy, he’s got a family he cares about, so score one on the humanity scale, and his crimes run more along ethical than murderous lines.
Above them all is Young, a rookie as dedicated to her job as Lamb is to his, and that there is another irony in that they both require guns to do their jobs, that’s just another piquant morsel Carnahan serves up. She is the good cop caught up in the cliche web of deceit who fights impossible odds and makes those ci-mentioned impossible choices. Louder is a rock. Effortlessly tough, she is a calm center as the plot thickens and the stakes rise, even as she springs into action with moves that Wonder Woman might envy. She is the embodiment of macha in a milieu suffused with machismo.
COPSHOP’s slick direction is given substance by a wickedly clever script that drops shout-outs and twists as easily as it does deadpan quips and oddly satisfying non-sequitors about jack fruit and Chris Hemsworth. It’s not for the faint of heart, nor for the literally minded, but for everyone else, this over-the-top romp through death and destruction is a giddy pleasure.