The synopsis of “Cop Car” is simple enough: Two 10-year-old boys steal an abandoned cop car. With suspension of disbelief in place, the premise delivers on its entertaining potential with plenty of thrilling and often very funny surprises.
The film opens with the two ten-year-olds in question, played by James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford, challenging each other to say the naughtiest words they can think in the process of running away from home. Director Jon Watts and co-writer Christopher Ford believably capture a young boyish mindset and playful behavior, even as the young kids figure out the basics of driving the vehicle — maybe a little too fast.
The car belongs to Sheriff Kretzer, played by a mustachioed Kevin Bacon (who also served as executive producer on the film), who was taking care of shadier business nearby. Bacon has fun with the role of Kretzer, a corruptible coke-fueled cop operating from his own brand of redneck justice. He runs in panic to the nearest trailer park and hijacks a car in hot pursuit of his own. He later learns that the two boys are the thieves in question based on a report from Camryn Manheim (ABC’s “The Practice”), who witnesses the speeding car swerving through the streets.
The film moves along at a tightly wound pace, thanks to editing by Megan Brooks and Andrew Hasse, but it’s especially involving while focused on the two boys. The story manages to create an increasingly sense of threat from its very first scenes, with deeply unsettling scenes of the two kids pointing loaded weapons in each other’s faces and activating a defibrillator. What they find in the trunk, however, gives the film the real catalyst to its intense evening-time final act.
The real-time progression of the film, as day shifts into night, benefits from the movie’s technical polish. Cinematographers Matthew Lloyd (the Terrence Malick-produced “The Better Angels” and FX’s “Fargo”) and Larkin Seiple (DJ Snake’s “Turn Down for What” music video) start the film with wide, crisp shots of the Southwestern landscape during the day while the story maintains a lighter, funnier vibe, and sharply amplifies the dread as the sun descends into the magic hour — and eventually into doom on the unlit country roads at night. Phil Mossman’s music matches those thematic beats, with a relatively low key approach until the chaotic final scenes.
“Cop Car” ultimately arrives at a series of action set pieces that do justice to the tension leading up to them. The brisk 86 minutes fly by, keeping the story as lean and efficient as possible. As a result, the movie doesn’t offer much in the way of substantial character development, but that’s not a deterrent when the fun twists keep coming.