It’s the most evil monologue of the year. Perfectly, horribly, fantastically chilling.
Two juvenile delinquents who are about 75 percent as tough as they think they are find themselves in the back of a police car. A very, very bad man inquires about their families, and asks if they have pets.
The very, very bad man proceeds to tell them in excruciating detail what he will do to their loved ones, both human and animal— and as he goes into the gory details, the 10-year-old troublemakers drop the bravado and become two extremely scared little boys.
In the span of just 88 minutes, Jon Watts’ throwback thriller “Cop Car” takes us on a pulse-quickening ride involving a corrupt sheriff, two adult brothers who apparently were mixed up in some seriously bad business — and those two boys, who have decided to run away from home and find themselves in the middle of a deadly game of cat and mouse.
We’re not sure why those boys are running away. We don’t know the circumstances that led to two men tied up in the trunk of that cop car. We don’t know the backstory of the sheriff, and why he has a secret stash of cash, weapons, gold bars and false I.D.’s at home. All we know is it might be something of a miracle if anyone gets out of this story alive.
“Cop Car” opens with a scene of Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford) gleefully blurting out various obscenities as they hop along a vast prairie framed by a mountain range and a seemingly endless sky. (There’s a little bit of Terrence Malick in Watts’ penchant for beautifully framed moments that stretch. And stretch.)
They come across a county sheriff’s car. Unmanned, unlocked. Just … sitting there, off the road and near some tall grass and trees.
First they dare each other to run over and just touch the car. Then they get bolder (and stupider), and the next thing we know, Travis and Harris are figuring out how to start a car, put it in drive and take it on a joyride.
Cut to earlier that day, and there’s Kevin Bacon’s Sheriff Kretzer behind the wheel of that cop car, sporting a military buzz cut, sunglasses and a semi-ridiculous mustache, driving deep into that field to conduct some nefarious business.
Sheriff Kretzer is comically dumbfounded when he returns to the spot where he parked his car — and there ain’t no car. As Bacon flails about like a silent movie actor, he perfectly announces Kretzer’s character: He’s dangerous and cunning, but he’s no genius.
Watts achieves a kind of early Coen brothers, early Tarantino feel. In one darkly twisted comedic moment, the boys fumble about with automatic weapons, unable to figure out how to release the integrated safety mechanisms. One literally points the gun at his face as he stares into the barrel, wondering if the gun is simply “out of bullets.” Yikes.
The sheriff desperately improvs one move after another, all for the goal of getting back to that car before someone else gets to the boys. Bacon is all smarmy charm as he manipulates the police dispatcher and figures out a way to communicate with the boys without anyone else listening in.
Camryn Manheim shows up as the local crackpot busybody, who swears she saw two young boys swerving down the highway in a cop car. Shea Whigham (Nucky Thompson’s brother Eli on “Boardwalk Empire”), playing a nasty guy with a blood-crusted face who was sure he’d be dead before the day is done but now has a chance to survive, makes the screen pop in every scene he’s in.
Kevin Bacon is reliable as ever. If you had to watch every film and TV show of any one American actor in his 50s, you could do a whole lot worse than going with Kevin Bacon.