Copshop (2021): a breakout performance from Alexis Louder

Imagine if Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) had a sense of humour. I feel like maybe that was writer-director Joe Carnahan’s pitch to the studio. Or maybe he just said… imagine a deranged Toby Huss with a machine gun and a set of balloons, shooting up a police precinct. For those not in the know, Toby is best known from the superb TV show, Halt and Catch Fire (2014-2017), in which he starred alongside Lee Pace, Mackenzie Davis, Scoot McNairy and Kerry Bishe.

Anyway, I’m going off-piste already. Let’s get back to machine guns and balloons. Copshop as a movie feels like a throwback to the 70s, but in a good way. It’s a stripped down and simple affair, but more effective because of it. Frank Grillo (below) is arguably the lead, playing a con artist called Teddy Murretto. Stuff happens, and Teddy gets himself locked up in the local jail, in theory for safety.

Yet in the cell opposite is seasoned assassin, Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler), sent to kill him. That’s the setup. The two of them trade insults and bicker back and forth, all the while rookie cop Valerie (Alexis Louder) tries to keep the peace, and also manage her colleagues at the precinct, most of whom, we learn, aren’t all that smart.

Is this, deep down under the macho posturing, a feminist film about how women are often surrounded by a bunch of idiot men that, if left to their own devices would probably all quickly kill each other?

Maybe. But despite Valerie’s best efforts, all hell breaks loose in the station — and by hell I refer back to the aforementioned Toby Huss, who plays a demented assassin with the fantastic name of Anthony Lamb. He’s what we call an inciting incident, and then some. (Side note: Toby is a hell of a lot of fun in this movie, and I hope Hollywood starts casting him in more stuff.)

In terms of this movie though, it’s up to Valerie to try and survive Lamb’s attack and ride it out, all the while trying to decide between the lesser of two evils for help: a slippery con artist or a violent assassin.

Quite the setup. I have to say, along with the recent Boss Level (2021), which he wrote and directed, and Bad Boys For Life (2020), which he wrote, writer-director Joe Carnahan seems to have found himself in a bit of creative purple patch. And with Copshop he’s got another hit, and landed a great cast.

We have Carnahan’s buddie, Frank Grillo, on fine and sleazy form. Also, a grizzled Gerard Butler showing why he’s a movie star and putting in a performance, rather than just phoning it in. Incidentally, perhaps a sweaty and grizzled Butler is the best kind of Butler? I feel he does his best work when he’s as swarthy as possible.

Grizzled Butler aside, the MVP breakout performance has to go to newcomer Alexis Louder. She’s had parts in The Tomorrow War (2021) and TV miniseries Watchmen (2019), and even Black Panther (2018) as Nigerian women #2 (hey, don’t knock it, it’s a gig), but this feels like the role that will firmly put her on the map. In multiple scenes she goes toe to toe with both Grillo and Butler, and it’s a joy to watch.

Valerie also feels like an updated version of John McClane, but instead of Bruce Willis in way over his head we have a young Black woman, which maybe shouldn’t be that significant in 2022, but it is, and still feels like something worth drawing attention to.

All in all, this film is a lot of fun. It does the basics right, and is full of action and grandstanding moments. Well worth your time, if you’re looking for an action movie that takes its time building to an explosive climax.

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