Do You Know Where Your Children Are?
By Johnny Pomatto
A film buff goes through most of their childhood hating the MPAA. There was so much that I wanted to see when I was younger but “the man” said that I was too young to see those tantalizing R rated movies. It’s too bad though, because there’s lots of R rated movies that are far too juvenile for your average adult but that appeal perfectly to the violent fantasies of bad little boys. Jon Watts’ new film COP CAR is filled with “adults only” content, but it’s the kind of story I would have absolutely loved to have seen when I was a young lad. I’m not suggesting that children see this movie, I’m just warning parents everywhere that their kids are going to probably do whatever they can to get their hands on it.
The story follows two young boys, the apprehensive Harrison and hell-raising Travis (played with familiar authenticity by Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson, respectfully). Harrison and Travis have run away from home, (whether permanently or for an attention-grabbing afternoon is unclear), and while exploring the empty, barren woods of Colorado, the two stumble on the abandoned titular cop car. At first the boys innocently sit at the wheel of the stationary car, making engine noises and pretending they’re in a high-speed chase, but when the keys drop from the visor and flop in their laps, Travis seizes the opportunity to drive towards the horizon on the open road. There’s a wonderful kind of wish fulfillment in seeing this incredibly dangerous behavior of these children, while simultaneously reminiscing of my own similar childhood fantasies that I would have loved to live out, if only I had been as courageous and badly behaved as these two kids. I immediately did my best to remove the element of danger from my mind and sat grinning at the screen to watch these kids go on the kind of adventure I only could ever dream about.
But the danger is still very real. You see, this is not just some abandoned cop car in the middle of nowhere. A corrupt local sheriff, (played by a magnificently mustachioed Kevin Bacon) has been in the woods and up to no good. When he returns to find his empty parking spot, he becomes extremely eager to get his car back before its thieves or any other authorities discover some of the incriminating things he has left behind in its trunk. Bacon’s redneck charm and determination is so fun to watch that we almost start to root for him to succeed in his villainous, child-murdering plot, but Harrison and Travis are so sincere and naïve during what they continue to view as an innocent and low-stakes adventure that one can’t help but admire the wonder in which their playtime is presented. Even while their characters are wholly unaware of the peril that they are in, the audience is always far too conscious of it, making us feel like helpless participants in the action. After the boys discover police paraphernalia in the back seat of the car, we are subjected to a scene in which the children put on oversized bulletproof vests and point loaded assault rifles at one another. The sensitive and violence-conscious audience I saw this with squealed with terror as the children foolishly played with real guns as if they were toys, and even while the scene filled me with a tense dread of recognizing the scenario as the kind of familiar tragedies we’re used to seeing on local news, I couldn’t help but stay in the same harmless fantasy that the boys imagined themselves to be in, and long for a time when I was just as fearless, if not quite as reckless.
The innocence of the boys’ situation does not last forever, and eventually real peril sets in. As fantastic as Bacon is in this role, I must admit I was never as compelled by the film whenever the narrative would switch away from the children’s point of view and towards the adult violence that was more in line with other typical films of the genre. Still, even with a few predictable shoot-outs, Watts makes us feel like we’re seeing this kind of story for the first time, as one would be when viewing through the eyes of a child who can’t comprehend what he’s witnessing. Watts’ clear love for 70’s era genre pictures is not an entirely unique trait for the director’s peers, but it’s still nonetheless refreshing to see a director with nostalgia for films from before the time of younger key demographics. I anticipated big things to come his way after seeing this film, and a mere 36 hours after I left the theater I read the announcement that he would be directing a new Spider-Man film for Marvel. While the idea of seeing yet another Spider-Man film wasn’t initially all that appealing to me, I’ve since gained a lot of hope for his future project. Watts perfectly captured the joy and excitement of two children getting to play with a very adult toy. Perhaps his take on a teenager with a super power will feel equally unique and nostalgic. COP CAR is destined to divide audience and spark debates about glorified violence and tantalizing children with it. As an adult, I’ll freely admit that some of those aspects of the film appall and frighten me, but as a former child, I’m reminded of the exciting moments in life when playing pretend suddenly becomes very real. It’s a bit scary, but one never forgets the moments that force us to reluctantly grow up.
CALL ME LUCKY
In the last decade, comedian Bobcat Goldthwait has reemerged as one of our most probing and fascinating independent filmmakers. Having greatly enjoyed such narrative efforts as “Sleeping Dogs Lie” and “World’s Greatest Dad,” I was excited to hear that his first documentary would be a profile of comedian Barry Crimmins, a comic whose name I knew but very little else. CALL ME LUCKY begins as a typical documentary profile, with talking head comedians reminiscing about how groundbreaking and influential this nearly unknown comedian was when they were starting out on the scene. I’m not opposed to such a format, and I was perfectly happy to sit and absorb the legacy of Crimmins with the anticipation of seeking out some of his old recordings when I returned home. I was totally unprepared for the change in direction that the film takes, as Crimmins reveals himself to be a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and while it’s totally understandable that he is not known to the masses outside of the 1980’s Boston comedy scene, it’s almost unforgiveable that Crimmins’ reputation as an activist and crusader has gone ignored until now. Goldthwait’s film serves as a perfect uncovering of Crimmins’ history, as well as an introspective revisit of the horrific events that shaped him as an adult. If all of this sounds devastating, I’m pleased to report that the film doesn’t shy away from comedy, and both Crimmins and Goldthwait are able bring humor to even some of the darkest moments. Many victims of childhood abuse rise above it by refusing to let it define them. Crimmins knows that his traumatic past is very much a part of who he is and isn’t afraid to interrupt his comedy act by getting personal and challenging his audience to think seriously for a moment or two. It’s a tactic that makes for a stand-up performance unlike many you’ve ever seen, and it works just as successfully in the film to set a balance between the funny and the devastating. But devastating is not a word I would use to describe this beautiful and powerful film. If Barry Crimmins finds a wider audience for his comedy because of his story being told, we will all be luckier for it, but the beauty of Crimmins’ story of redemption is that he never needed our attention for millions of us to benefit from his tireless efforts. As remarkable as his story his, Crimmins gets our respect by telling it his own way.
Hear more of Johnny Pomatto’s reviews on his podcast MOVIES AND FILMS WITH JOHNNY AND FRIENDS available on iTunes