Most narrative films fit into one of two categories: There are movies that foreshadow, and there are movies that don’t. The recently released Big Game, for instance, fits into the former category: An Eastern European preteen who couldn’t lift a bow rescued a crash-landed POTUS during a ritual hunt; no points for guessing what weapon he was using by film’s end.
Cop Car is another genre movie populated by preteens: Harrison and Travis are walking the open plains, with the spiky Travis leading the more hesitant Harrison in a curse-word sing-a-long. Director Jon Watts only foreshadows one single thing about the following 86 minutes: One of these kids is going to say, “Oh, f***.”
The leadup to that exclamation starts when they steal the eponymous vehicle—conspicuously empty—off a dirt road. Then we swap perspectives and timelines, meeting the crooked cop (Kevin Bacon) dumb enough to leave it there. Then back to the boys, joyriding and making “Mario Kart” jokes. Then to a pearl-clutching grandma they almost run down. Then to the mysterious stranger (Shea Whigham) they find lying in the trunk. And then the bullets start flying—from one perspective to another, in every damn direction.
It’s not a closed loop like Big Game—where setups and payoffs circle like race cars—but an evolving entity, with each point of view introduced enlarging the boiling pot until it swallows these boys whole. The influences, then, are the pop art Eastwood westerns directed by Sergio Leone, who also shunned foreshadowing and delighted in introducing jarringly unexpected elements with every edit. Watts’ film, shot with the same dusty palette and in the same super-wide aspect ratio, doesn’t hide its lineage. And it can’t help but appear a trifle compared to those masterpieces of genre goofiness. Yet the pleasures wrought by the blind structure—like the very unexpected return of one of those aforementioned players—delight in a way that all those other knockoffs fail to achieve. It doesn’t matter if the shot misses its mark by a bit. You still didn’t see it coming.
COP CAR. RATED R. COOLIDGE CORNER THEATRE. 290 HARVARD AVE., BROOKLINE. LIMITED ENGAGEMENT, INCLUDING MIDNIGHT SHOWS, BEGINS FRI 8.14.