Wednesday, September 22, 2021


How is Stretch? I ask because Joe Carnahan had a nice little run going with Smokin' Aces, The A-Team, and The Grey about ten years ago, and then that movie comes out and he's stuck in TV for the next six or seven years, at least in terms of directing movies. There was some good TV in there, but is it really the sort of thing that just makes people with money not trust a director any more. Or is it just a capable-enough bit of VOD-quality action that makes one suspect that The Grey was a fluke, in terms of him being able to do more than big but fairly heartless action?

Or maybe it's just that the sort of action movie he makes, where you're supposed to enjoy the raw cathartic violence of it, has fallen out of favor, and the skill of staging that that kind of action isn't really something you look for in a director these days - it's done in previz and second-unit work, and then tweaked to get the PG-13.

Those are the things I wonder, looking over his filmography, because Carnahan did seem like a guy who was going to be a reliable source of that kind of action for a while, and I watched The Blacklist in large part because he directed the pilot and a crucial action-heavy first-season episode where you could tell he was just better at this than a lot of the other guys working on the show (although, to be fair, he probably had a lot more in the way of time and resources while most guys directing TV are mostly trying to survive a brutal schedule). Heck, I probably would have skipped this if I hadn't caught his name in the rapidly flashing credits on the trailer.

And I'll probably watch the next thing he makes like it. Joe Carnahan only rarely puts together a movie that does everything well, but he does some things that I really enjoy a lot better than many of his contemporaries.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 September 2021 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, DCP)

It may be the second-most predictable thing in the movie world that Joe Carnahan would try to set a North American record for the most Chekhov's Guns in a movie; the second one appears about a minute after he opens the film with a shot of the first, and he spends a fair amount of the early portion of the film making sure that the audience can see that there are not just a lot of weapons here, but a lot of specific weapons. The first-most predictable thing, of course, is that his cast will eventually discharge those firearms as much as possible. In between… Well, he could do a bit better with the bits in between.

The first gun is a .44 wielded by Valerie Young (Alexis Louder), a rookie partnered with Sgt. Duane Mitchell (Chad L. Coleman); the second is a birthday present he's purchased for his niece. A humdrum day starts to turn when they go to break up a fight at a wedding reception and some rando sucker-punches Valerie and gets hauled off to their brand new, isolated police station for his trouble. That guy is Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo), a mob fixer with a price on his head who figures a nice quiet jail would be just the place to lay low, though he doesn't count on hitman Bob Viddick managing to get himself arrested in the same jurisdiction. Viddick has managed to come up with a pretty decent plan on the fly, but there's always one or three things you can't count on, like Valerie immediately seeing that something is off with Teddy, an officer (Ryan O'Nan) who owes money to some bad people and was already planning to steal some confiscated drugs out of evidence, and Anthony Lamb (Toby Huss), a rather less-nuanced assassin who is not far behind.

It's a bit surprising that Carnahan hasn't worked with Gerard Butler before - they've both been doing the same brand of "you don't come to this sort of movie for nuance" action for a while - and the result isn't nearly as much fun as one might hope. It was probably an unreasonable hope - Carnahan has always been better at the mayhem than the fun-to-watch tough guys with their own lines (with everything else a distant third), but for much of the movie he gives a potentially entertaining cast little to do but sit and wait. Part of that may be that the film was seemingly designed to be shot under Covid protocols, the jail being enclosed but spacious, maybe a bit underpopulated, room for characters to stand six feet apart and the crew to spread out off-camera. A filmmaker can work with this, but Carnahan seldom has his characters get under each other's skin in a way that makes an audience lead forward or feel something more than "yeah, this is what I paid for" when it leads to bullets flying.

Butler is going to be first-billed in this movie, of course, and he's not bad at all; he hits a nice blend of Viddick being professional but having fun with his work, kind of what one figures Butler himself brings to these movies. It's kind of generic, but capable. Frank Grillo never quite brings the scuzziness and relatable guy over his head aspects of the character together. Meanwhile, Toby Huss is given all the scenery to chew and has at it; he's there to be the weird guy with the sick jokes, and he handles it well. The real heroine is Valerie Young, and Alexis Louder is pretty great, living up to the cocky gunslinger confidence dropped upon her in the first scene and always holding herself like she's taking everything in and thinking it through. The writers give her a line about how she's digging into her mysterious prisoners because she's bored and it's not just the right amount of snarky to give her some personality and sincere enough to highlight just how her mind is always working even if she comes off as a woman of action before anything else.

Everybody lights up when they get to go into action, especially Louder, who has credit in other productions for stuntwork and always moves with purpose. Even beyond her, the two or three big action pieces are pretty darn good. This movie isn't subtle - Carnahan is blowing the hell out of everything until it's time for Valerie to just have one bullet left - but the filmmakers use the fair amount of space they have well and have a good eye for how to use bullet-proof material to make things more dangerous rather than less. Carnahan's still more interested in making the staging impressive rather than the impact most of the time, but it's hard to fault him for sticking with what he does well.

The action is good enough and the cast has enough potential that Copshop would really be a nifty little action movie in the mold of John Woo's Hong Kong days if Carnahan had that sort of flair for melodrama in addition to being able to stage action. Instead, it will probably be "the first place I noticed Alexis Louder", which is at least something to let it stand out amid other mid-size action movies.

Full review at eFilmCritic

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