The prospects of a gritty cop movie in the context of the found footage genre makes sense when one considers that the reality series “COPS” helped solidify the vernacular associated with the format. But “End of Watch” only uses the first person approach to frame the familiar dramas of two hackneyed characters, cocksure young officers Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña), as they uncover the dark underbelly of the drug trade in south central L.A. Taylor’s obsession with filming their exploits provides a handy excuse for the constant shaky cam, but director David Ayer often abandons the device for more conventional storytelling, an arbitrary decision made worse by a trite screenplay that mainly revolves around the two smarmy men trading barbs as they chase down bad guys and complain about their problems with the opposite sex.
While Taylor struggles between his commitment to duty and the pressures of settling down with his newfound love (Anna Kendrick in a one-note role), Zavala waxes poetic on the benefits of family life. Their world grows increasingly claustrophobic, the danger quotient rises, and everything explodes in a hail of bullets. Overlong and blazingly unoriginal, the movie only manages to thunder forward because of its two committed leads, whose struggles maintain a certain ferocity even though we’ve seen them before. By virtue of its style and high stakes scenario, “End of Watch” is impressively tense, but then so are most episodes of “COPS,” which don’t suffer from the forced melodrama found here. Criticwire grade: C+ [Eric Kohn]