2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Crown Vic’

May 5, 2019

by Carla Hay

Luke Kleintank and Thomas Jane in "Crown Vic"
Luke Kleintank and Thomas Jane in “Crown Vic” (Photo by Thomas Scott Stanton)

“Crown Vic”

Directed by Joel Souza

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 26, 2019.

Let’s get the inevitable comparison out of the way first: No, “Crown Vic” doesn’t come close to the quality of 2001’s “Training Day,” the Antoine Fuqua-directed drama about corrupt cops that earned Denzel Washington his second Academy Award. If the Oscar-caliber “Training Day” is like filet mignon, then “Crown Vic” is like a McDonald’s hamburger—cheaply made with a lot of questionable filler, but most people who end up consuming it know in advance that they’re getting lowbrow junk.

“Crown Vic” takes place entirely during a night of patrol duty for the cops who are the two central characters—cynical grouch Ray Mandel (played by Thomas Jane) and his younger rookie partner Nick Holland Jr. (played by Luke Kleintank)—while they tool around the streets of Los Angeles in a Ford Crown Victoria squad car. It’s the first night that Nick and Ray are working together, and the movie will be compared to “Training Day” because both movies take place in Los Angeles and are essentially about how an older LAPD cop shows his shocked younger partner how to be brutal and get away with crimes. The younger partner then must make a decision to stop the madness or go along with the corruption that his partner is teaching him. (In “Training Day,” Ethan Hawke played the rookie to Washington’s older criminal cop.)

During the course of Ray and Nick’s extremely eventful night, we see how they handle various criminal activities. Among the dangerous situations they find themselves in are finding a burning car with a person inside; getting involved in an armed robbery and murder; chasing after and arresting a thug who throws a brick at their car; surprising a prowler before he commits a burglary; intervening in a domestic-violence dispute; and hunting down the people who’ve kidnapped a 9-year-old girl who’s been missing for a month.

Ray (who does the driving, of course) is the type of character who might seem somewhat religious because has a St. Anthony medal (St. Anthony is the patron saint of finding lost people), but he has no problem committing police brutality and breaking other laws in full view of his partner. Nick is very by-the-book, and he brings some emotional baggage into the partnership: He’s living in the shadow of his father, a respected, high-ranking cop from the LAPD, but Nick is currently estranged from his father for reasons that aren’t made clear in the movie. Nick, who’s been married for two years, is expecting a baby girl with his pregnant wife, who checks in with him by phone every couple of hours as a good-luck ritual. Nick says of their marriage, “I worry about doing something so stupid, she’ll never want to see me again.”

During their ride together, Ray essentially admits that he’s married to his work and is perfectly okay with not having much of a personal life. He also makes some jaded, wise-cracking quips while on patrol duty. When he lights up a cigarette while driving in the car, and Nick declines to smoke, he tells Nick, “I don’t trust a man with no vices.”

Later, when Ray and Nick arrest a drunk woman with a gun in her car, she begins to have a temper tantrum in the back of the police car after she fails to sweet-talk her way out of the arrest. Ray’s response when she starts kicking and screaming: “Don’t underestimate over-privileged chicks from the Valley. It’s all that yoga. It keeps them in shape.”

It’s the case of the kidnapped 9-year-old girl that takes up a good deal of the story. The girl’s mother is a junkie whom Ray and Nick have met at a restaurant to get more information on the child’s disappearance. Because of the mother’s drug problem and because she didn’t report her missing child right away, Nick and Ray suspect that the child might have been sold by her mother into sex-trafficking.

In the type of unrealistic time frame that can happen in a movie, these two cops working together for the first time for only a few hours are close to solving the kidnapping case when they track down a suspect, who gets hit by a car driven by an undercover cop (played by Faron Salisbury), who’s tweaked out on meth. There’s some police brutality, cops pulling guns on each other, and one of the cops trying to commit suicide—all in this one scene. Then, as if to cram in more action, one of the cops is taken hostage toward the end of the film. Just a reminder: All of this is supposed to happen in one night.

But what really stretches the bounds of credibility is when Ray commits a serious, violent crime in plain view (with street lights on) in the middle of a residential street. He says his police recorder was busted as a way to explain why he won’t get caught, but the movie doesn’t take into account that a big city like Los Angeles has street cameras, not to mention the real probability that all the ruckus would be witnessed by people in the neighborhood who could use their phones to video record what’s happening. Even though “Crown Vic” is supposed to take place in the present day, it’s almost like the script (written by first-time feature director Joel Souza) was so influenced by cop movies from previous decades, like “Training Day” and “Colors,” that the screenplay is stuck in an unrealistic time warp when smartphones didn’t exist and street cameras weren’t as widespread as they are today.

“Crown Vic” is mindless B-movie pulp, through and through. To its credit, it doesn’t try to pretend to be anything else. “Crown Vic” star Jane has been making these kinds of movies for quite some time, so people who know his track record should know what they’re signing up for if they watch this film. It’s the kind of movie where Ray gives this speech to Nick to justify Ray’s law-breaking activities: “It’s us against them. You are the sheepdog. They are the sheep. People sleep peacefully at night because rough men do violence on their behalf.”

UPDATE: Screen Media Films will release “Crown Vic” in New York City on November 8, 2019. The movie will be released in additional cities and on VOD on November 15, 2019.