Joe Carnahan is a wildly inconsistent writer-director. When he's good, he's The Grey, when he's bad he's Boss Level. For the most part he exists in the middle road where he coasts by on a game cast and some moments of brilliance, and this is where Copshop lives.
Taking place over one night, the film follows mob fixer Teddy who assaults rookie cop Valerie Young in a bid to be protected from a hit on his head. By the small precinct comes under attack and a locked up Hitman begins to make things worse.
For the most part that pairing of Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo is pretty good. Butler can deliver a stern warning better than most action stars, and his suitably frazzled looking hitman Bob Viddick offers him plenty to do physically. Grillo gets the short end of the stick as Teddy, it's a fairly bland role that has him spend most of the film pleading to be let out of a hail. Neither are particularly outstanding but they get the measure of the film.
Carnahan, who co-writes as well as directing is making a throwback, from the retro-style opening credits to the tone of the film. This is not the shoot-‘em-up comedy that the trailers were selling, it is instead a slowly building of tension as things begin to fall into place, playing out much more as an ensemble than a movie about two action guys going head to head.
It may surprise many people just how long the film takes setting up motifs, running jokes, character moments and the mounting tension. It feels like the lost Walter Hill movie, and in another life this could have been a Schwarzenegger / Stallone vehicle. The film channels Westerns for it's tone, offering the occasional smile as it lays the groundwork for it's finale.
It falls on Alexis Louder to be the one that holds the film together. As Young, Louder sets herself apart as a talent to watch. Not only does she have the stern resolve and every-person appeal that made Bruce Willis a house-hold name, but she manages to force a little bit of humanity into a film that could easily just be all style without substance. Her cocky rookie act into action heroine by the end is some of the most thrilling stuff.
While Toby Huss as unhinged hitman Anthony Lamb is the role people will remember, his psychotic comedic turn is one for the ages, and every moment he's on screen he brings out the film's bizarre potential.
The film is, however, fairly too concerned with being stylish to ever really take off. For all the laughs, the action and the on screen blood splatter there's a feeling that none of it matters. It feels very Tarantino-light, and as twist piles of twist you begin to expect a surprise return every time a camera lingers on a person for longer than two seconds.
Even so, the film has it's joys and for the unassuming viewer this will provide plenty of blood covered mayhem to keep people entertained from start to finish. It's just not much else.
Copshop is in UK cinemas on Sept 10.