Frank Grillo and Gerard Butler are two actors cut very much from the same cloth, to the extent that they may as well have been brothers from other mothers, albeit if one of them hailed from the Bronx and the other from Glasgow. They’re both chiseled dudes in their 50s that built their names and reputations in the action genre, and have taken to producing their own output in order to seize opportunities that may otherwise have passed them by.
Grillo partnered up with filmmaker Joe Carnahan to found the WarParty production company, which has so far delivered a string of familiar-sounding titles with uniquely different spins. Netflix’s Wheelman was set entirely in and around a car, Point Blank was a grimy buddy movie with Anthony Mackie along for the ride, while Boss Level deliriously re-imagined Groundhog Day as a balls-to-the-wall actioner. WarParty’s latest is Copshop, with Carnahan co-writing and directing. Grillo and Butler play the two lead roles and share producing credits, but the only real d*ck measuring happens onscreen. In a figurative sense, of course.
The notion of the hugely popular grizzled badasses finally teaming up for a gritty R-rated actioner is something fans have been wanting to see happen for a while, but Copshop isn’t quite the movie you think it is. In fact, it might not even be what you want it to be. It’s a much different beast than the trailers suggest, which is very much intended as a compliment. The promos have painted it as a standard two-hander packed with blood and barbs, and it definitely delivers on that front, but there’s a lot more going on under the hood.
Grillo plays conman Teddy Murretto, who punches a female police officer full force in the face to get himself arrested, where he’s locked up in the aptly named Gun Creek. It turns out that Teddy’s on the run and the best way to protect himself is to be surrounded by the law. However, Butler’s hitman Bob Viddick schemes his own way into the building, biding his time waiting for the opportunity to take out his target for good. Naturally, an escalating set of circumstances get in the way, and things descend into all-out anarchy when crooked cops, double-crosses and another rival assassin all begin to make their presence felt.
In terms of both style and sensibility, Carnahan is a filmmaker right out of the 1970s. His track record is admittedly patchy, but his best efforts are always stripped-down affairs that rely on character and performance above pyrotechnics, with Copshop attempting to find the middle ground between Quentin Tarantino and Walter Hill. For the most part, it works; the plot moves at a brisk enough speed, while the broad archetypes and standard tropes peppered throughout the narrative mean that nothing ever gets taken too seriously, even if the pace stalls every now and again before we reach the obligatory third act showdown.
The two stars have very similar onscreen personas, but they play their parts in Copshop entirely differently from what we’re used to seeing, which was the smartest way to go. Teddy is a lot more nervous, twitchy, weaselly and ill-equipped than we’ve come to expect from lifelong martial arts practitioner Grillo, while Butler has a blast chewing on the scenery as Viddick. They’re both equally broad turns in opposite ways, but you can almost see the sparks fly when the two titans of mid-budget action start spouting off at each other.
However, Louder is the revelation here. Her rookie cop Valerie Young anchors the entire movie, and she gets more screen time than either of her veteran scene partners, which she knocks clear out of the park. Equal parts strong-willed, determined, afraid and unstoppable badass, it’s a breakout role for the actress that bears every indication she’s got the credentials to become an action hero in her own right. In fact, the urgency and excitement noticeably sags when she’s sidelined, such is her importance to Copshop as a whole.
Toby Huss appears to have walked in from a completely different movie to everyone else, but his bizarre Anthony Lamb is a delight that makes sense within the heightened context. He dials his performance way past eleven, offering another dynamic to the already-strange situation unfolding throughout Copshop, and his verbal sparring with Butler, Grillo and even Louder results in some zippy exchanges and fantastic one-liners.
Carnahan keeps things contained, with almost the entirety of Copshop set inside a single location bar the occasional flashback or interlude, and that sense of intimate intensity is what carries the film through to a grandstanding finale that occasionally veers into formulaic, but is never anything less than giddily excessive when the bullets really start to fly.
The first half serves to establish the characters, give the performers time to breathe and invest audiences in the setup, all while imbuing the proceedings with a defiantly old-school vibe. There’s no action for the sake of action, at least until the last 30 minutes, but Louder’s performance and Carnahan’s handling of the slow-burning preamble will have you urging Valerie on at every turn. You’ll want the straight-laced cop to save the day even though she’s up against Frank Grillo and Gerard Butler in an action movie, which is a testament to how Copshop upends whatever expectations you’ve got going in.