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Dark 'Cop Car' could use a real hero

Dark 'Cop Car' could use a real hero
Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson in "Cop Car." (Focus World)

Boyhood adventure and criminal distress collide in the rural Colorado nail-biter "Cop Car," an assuredly executed tale of two thrill-seeking preteen pals (James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford) appropriating an abandoned sheriff's vehicle, clueless to the value that the contents of the trunk hold to its driver (Kevin Bacon).

Though its director, Jon Watts, recently landed the assignment of steering the next Spider-Man reboot, there are no heroes in this ever-darkening tale — just an old-school genre workout of the Spielberg-meets-Coens variety (to cite two of Watts' influences).

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Watts, who wrote the movie with Christopher Ford, shows a facility with the pokey verisimilitude of boys at play, even if his attitude toward their bad decision-making verges on unsympathetic. (Carelessness with weaponry is routinely exploited for maximum wincing.)

The ever-reliable Bacon, meanwhile, cuts a magnetically ropey figure as the corrupt lawman eager to get his property back. His evil isn't explained, just presented as a shrewd, primal force.

But as "Cop Car" pivots and weaves toward its violent conclusion, the movie exposes itself more and more as a ride along of puppeteered peril. There's no denying Watts' skill at a certain kind of desolate cat and mouse, but it's in the service of what is ultimately a somewhat heartless exercise.

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"Cop Car"

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

MPAA rating: R for language, violence, brief drug use.

Playing: ArcLight Hollywood.

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