Review: ‘Copshop’ (2021), starring Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo

September 8, 2021

by Carla Hay

Frank Grillo (center) in “Copshop” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

“Copshop” (2021)

Directed by Joe Carnahan

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional city of Gun Creek, Nevada, the action film “Copshop” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A con artist, who has landed in jail for assaulting a cop, finds out that more than one person in the jail is out to kill him because of his past alliance with a murdered district attorney.

Culture Audience: “Copshop” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo and like seeing a movie with a badly conceived story and a lot of unrealistic violence.

Gerard Butler in “Copshop” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

“Copshop” can’t decide if it wants to be a gritty action flick or a wacky crime comedy. The result is that this creatively bankrupt film is an incoherent mess. The dialogue is awful, the acting is mediocre, and it’s just a time-wasting excuse to be a “shoot ’em up” flick with a nonsensical plot. Directed by Joe Carnahan, who co-wrote the “Copshop” screenplay with Kurt McLeod, “Copshop” is filled with lazy tropes that a lot of audiences dislike about mindless, violent movies.

“Copshop” over-relies on these tiresome clichés: Characters sustain major injuries that would put them in a hospital, but then these same characters miraculously move around less than an hour later as if they’ve got nothing but bruises. People draw guns on each other with the intent to kill, but then they spend a ridiculous amount of time giving dumb speeches or trading insults instead of shooting. And worst of all: “Copshop” constantly plays tricks on viewers about who’s really dead and who’s really alive.

All of that might be excused if the action scenes were imaginative, if the storylines were exciting and/or if the characters’ personalities were appealing. But most of the principal characters in “Cop Shop” are hollow and forgettable. The fight scenes are monotonous and nothing that fans of action flicks haven’t already seen in much better movies.

“Copshop” takes place in the fictional Nevada city of Gun Creek, which is in the middle of a desert. (“Copshop” was actually filmed in New Mexico and Georgia.) Gun Creek is a fairly small city, which is why there are only about six or seven cops on duty at the Gun Creek Police Department’s headquarters, where most of the action takes place when the police department goes under siege one night. You know a movie is bad when guns and bombs are going off in a police department, and yet the cops are too stupid to try to call for help immediately.

Nothing about this police department and its jail looks authentic. Before the chaos breaks out, everything is too neat, too quiet and too clean in the cops’ office space and in the jail. In other words, everything looks like a movie set. This phoniness just lowers the quality of this already lowbrow movie.

And the cinematography went overboard in trying to make the jail look “edgy,” because it’s too dark inside. And yet the jail cells are spotless. Jail cells aren’t supposed to look like a sleek underground nightclub. This movie is such a bad joke.

The gist of the moronic story is that Theodore “Teddy” Morretto (played by Frank Grillo) is a con artist who’s on the run from an assassin. In one part of the movie, Teddy describes himself as some kind of power broker who likes to introduce powerful people to each other and help fix their problems. He doesn’t like to call himself a “fixer” though. He likes to call himself a “manufacturer.”

One of the people whom Teddy had past dealings with was an attorney general named Fenton (played by Dez), who has been murdered. This crime has made big news in the area. Because of information that Teddy knows, he figures that he’s next on the hit list of whoever wanted Fenton dead.

In case it wasn’t clear that someone wants Teddy to be killed, a flashback scene shows that a bomb was set in Teddy’s car, it exploded, and he barely escaped with his life. His clothes caught on fire, but then later in the story, there’s no mention of him having the kind of burn injuries that he would’ve gotten from the types of flames spread on his body. It’s just sloppy screenwriting on display.

Teddy has come up with a plan to hide out for a while. He deliberately gets himself arrested because he thinks he’ll be “safer” in jail. Teddy disrupts a nighttime wedding reception at a casino, where a brawl is happening outdoors. When the police show up, Teddy assaults one of the cops and literally pleads for a cop to use a taser on him.

The cop who obliges his request is rookie Valerie Young (played by Alexis Louder), who is measured and sarcastic in her interactions with people. On the same night that Teddy is hauled into the police station and put in a jail cell, an anonymous drunk man who has no identification is also arrested and put in the jail cell across from Teddy. The other man got arrested because he crashed his car into a highway fence, right in front of two patrol officers who were parked nearby.

It turns out (and this isn’t spoiler information) that this other arrestee is really an assassin named Bob Viddick (played by Gerard Butler), who is somewhat of a legend among the criminals in Nevada. Somehow, Bob found out that Teddy was in the police department’s jail, and he got himself arrested because he’s been assigned to murder Teddy. And just so you know how incompetent this police department is, Bob has smuggled a gun into the jail cell.

The rest of “Copshop” is literally a bunch of shootouts, as the police station goes under siege when another assassin shows up. He’s a lunatic gangster named Anthony Lamb (played by Toby Huss), and he wants to kill Teddy, Bob and everyone else in the building, except for a corrupt cop who has access to a large haul of confiscated drugs that Anthony wants. This criminal cop is named Huber (played by Ryan O’Nan), and he owes Anthony a lot of money.

Huber is one of the cops in charge of the inventory/evidence at the police department. Huber plans to steal several bricks of what looks like cocaine, in order to pay off his debts to Anthony. It’s a dumb plan because this police department is so small that it would be easy to figure out who took the drug stash.

Huber already looks suspicious, because he’s been sweaty and acting nervous all night. Here’s an example of the movie’s terrible dialogue. When a fellow cop notices that Huber has been acting furtive and preoccupied with the inventory room, he asks Huber, “What’s got you so curious?” Huber replies, “Curiosity.”

Rookie cop Valerie is telegraphed early on as the one who will be the movie’s big hero. But she’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. When she looks up Teddy’s criminal record, she’s astonished to see that he’s been arrested 22 times but no charges were ever filed against him. “How does that happen?” she asks a fellow cop in the office. Can you say “confidential informant,” Valerie?

Despite being saddled with a horrible script, Louder’s wisecracking depiction of Valerie is one of the few things that can be considered close to a highlight of “Copshop.” The other is the nutty performance of Huss as mobster Anthony, who is a scene stealer. How unhinged is Anthony? He starts singing in the middle of the mayhem. “Copshop” uses Curtis Mayfield’s 1972 hit “Freddie’s Dead” has a recurring song in more than one scene.

However, there’s nothing about any of the characters in the movie that can be considered outstanding enough for audiences to be clamoring for a sequel. Butler and Grillo are two of the producers of “Copshop,” so they’re partially to blame for how this embarrassing schlock turned out, but Carnahan (also a “Copshop” producer) is the one who’s chiefly responsible. It’s not the first time they’ve done these types of unimpressive B-movies, and it won’t be the last time.

Open Road Films and Briarcliff Entertainment will release “Copshop” in U.S. cinemas on September 17, 2021. The movie had a one-night-only sneak preview in U.S. cinemas on September 8, 2021.

Review: ‘Greenland,’ starring Gerard Butler

December 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd and Gerard Butler in “Greenland” (Photo courtesy of STX)

“Greenland”

Directed by Ric Roman Waugh

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of North America, the sci-fi action flick “Greenland” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A structural engineer, his wife and their 7-year-old son are selected by the U.S. government to be part of an elite evacuation program during a comet disaster, and this privileged status causes problems for them when they are separated during the chaos.

Culture Audience: “Greenland” will appeal primarily to people who like suspenseful apocalyptic movies that have underlying commentary about society’s conflicts over social classes and privilege.

Gerard Butler in “Greenland” (Photo courtesy of STX)

Out of all the types of apocalyptic disaster stories that can be told, perhaps the most terrifying is some variation of “the sky is falling,” whether it’s from meteors, comets or another deadly force from outer space. In the above-average sci-fi thriller “Greenland” (directed by Ric Roman Waugh and written by Chris Sparling), the threat from outer space is a highly unusual comet that scientists at first think is a natural wonder to behold. But the comet turns out to be the worst kind, because it ends up causing worldwide damage and has the power to wipe out most of Earth’s population. 

It’s a concept that’s been done in movies before, but “Greenland” ramps up the suspense level in realistic ways because it’s not too caught up in trying to scare people with visual effects, which are actually done very well in this film. Instead, “Greenland” focuses on the terror experienced by a family of three who get separated from each other in the chaos of an evacuation. There are added layers of stress because the child in this family is diabetic, and the family is targeted by desperate and envious people who want what this family has: privileged U.S. government clearance to be taken to a secret shelter that was built to withstand the worst disasters and attacks.

Like a lot of disaster movies, “Greenland” starts out with people being blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that’s coming their way. In Florida, structural engineer John Garrity (played by Gerard Butler), who is originally from Scotland, is on the job at a construction site, but he wants to get home as soon as possible because his 7-year-old son Nathan (played by Roger Dale Floyd) is having a party where several people in the neighborhood have been invited. John and his American wife Allison (played by Morena Baccarin), who were separated in the past and are now trying to work on their marriage, are organizing the party.

The big news around the world is that there’s an interstellar comet that is passing by Earth, and it’s expected to be the closest fly-by of a comet in Earth’s history. This highly anticipated sighting is such a big deal that people are having watch parties, and the news has been reporting the latest updates on the comet’s trajectory. The comet is considered so safe that it’s been named Clarke.

However, as soon as John gets home, something strange happens: He gets phone messages by text and by robocalls from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. These messages order John, Allison and Nathan to report to Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia, because they have been selected for emergency relocation. The messages demand that no one else can accompany this family of three to the Air Force base.

John doesn’t know if these messages are real or some kind of prank. He tells people at the party about the messages, and they’re not sure if the messages are real either. A few of the adults at the party wonder why they didn’t get these messages too. John doesn’t know why he and his family were selected for this special evacuation.

However, it soon becomes obvious that the messages really are from the U.S. government. While the Garrity family and their party guests are in the living room watching the latest comet news on TV, the first sign that the comet is going to be disastrous comes when it’s reported that a fragment of the comet that was supposed to crash in the ocean near Brazil instead landed in Tampa. The shockwaves caused Tampa to burn, and the inferno blast spread all the way to Orlando.

John and Allison decide to quickly pack up some family belongings and go with Nathan by car to Robins Air Force Base, as instructed. There are some moments of high anxiety when a few of the neighbors beg to go with the Garrity family, but John refuses because he correctly assumes that anyone who doesn’t have government clearance will be turned away. However, he promises that he will contact the neighbors after he finds out more details about what’s going on with the evacuation.

Meanwhile, the Garrity family hears on the car radio that more of the comet’s fragments are wiping out entire parts of the world, including Bogotá, Colombia. Scientists are frantically trying to predict where the fragments might land next, in order to evacuate people from those areas. Anxiety then turns to sheer panic.

Word has gotten out that Robins Air Force Base is one of the designated meeting areas for the evacuees who were selected by the U.S. government. And so, when the Garritys arrive at the Air Force base, they see a terrified and angry mob of people who demand to be let in, even though most of them are not supposed to be there. It’s a foreshadowing of the “haves” and “have nots” conflicts that happen during several scenes in the movie.

Several military personnel are on duty to only allow access to people who are on the government clearance list. And those pre-approved people get yellow wristbands to identify them. There are several Air Force planes waiting to take thousands of people to the same shelter, which is in a classified location that is later revealed to be in Greenland.

The Garrity family makes it safely through the checkpoint, but things take a turn for the worse when they find out that Nathan, who is diabetic, accidentally dropped his insulin in the car when he was looking for a blanket. John finds out that he has only about 15 to 20 minutes before the family’s assigned evacuee plane leaves. He also finds out that all the planes are headed to the same place, so that if he can’t be on the same plane as his wife and son, he’ll hopefully be able to reunite with them at the shelter.

John and Allison hastily make a decision that John will go back to the car to get Nathan’s medicine, while Allison will stay with Nathan and board the plane. However, more complications ensue when Allison speaks to a military guard and tells him about their situation and how they can’t leave without John. And that’s when the guard tells her that because Nathan is diabetic, it’s a health liability, and the Garrity family shouldn’t have been approved for the emergency shelter.

The guard and a colleague then tell Allison and Nathan that they can’t get on the plane after all. Allison and Nathan are then forced to go with the guards to another area, where Allison pleads with another military person to let them on the plane because they don’t want to be separated from John. What happens next are several twists and turns to the story, some of which are unpredictable, while other plot developments are a tad cliché.

All of the cast members give very good performances, even though this movie is not on the type of prestige level where it’s going to get any major awards. The filmmakers avoided the stereotype that a lot of American-made disaster movies have: making the male protagonist/hero someone who was born and raised in the United States. Butler, who is Scottish in real life, keep his native accent in the movie. (Butler is one of the producers of “Greenland,” so that probably had a lot to do with the decision to make John Garrity a Scot too.)

Another non-cliché aspect to “Greenland” is that it doesn’t follow the disaster movie formula of having the hero’s love interest be a passive “damsel in distress.” Allison is no ditz who waits around to be rescued. There are moments where Allison steps up in a big way to help save her family. Baccarin’s portrayal shows a lot of authenticity in how real women would act in the same situation, with all the bravery and vulnerability that comes with it.

John and Allison’s son Nathan is thankfully not written as “too precocious to be true” or a “disease of the week” kid. Floyd capably portrays Nathan’s intelligent sensitivity as a kid who just happens to have diabetes. The movie also makes a point of showing how Nathan’s medical condition quickly changed the status of the Garrity family from “desirable” to “undesirable” candidates for evacuation. It speaks to the prejudice that people could encounter in a similar situation where governments decide who in the population will get preferential treatment in a mass evacuation. 

One of the other memorable characters in “Greenland” is Allison’s widower father Dale (played by Scott Glenn), who somewhat mistrusts John because of the problems in John and Allison’s marriage. And there’s a married couple in the story named Judy Vento (played by Hope Davis) and Ralph Vento (played by David Denman), who play a key role in one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the movie.

Throughout the film, director Waugh never lets up on the frantic pace after the comet disaster strikes. (Waugh and Butler previously worked together on the 2019 action film “Angel Has Fallen.”) And when it comes to characters, “Greenland” wisely takes a “less is more” approach, since the story is focused on this family of three and their perspective for the entire film. It’s a departure from the typical disaster movie that has different storylines for a group of strangers. Simply put: “Greenland” is an apocalyptic movie that isn’t going to change the world, but it largely succeeds in being suspenseful, escapist entertainment.

STX released “Greenland” on VOD on December 18, 2020. The movie will be released on digital on January 26, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on February 9, 2021.

Gerard Butler and 50 Cent play a dangerous game of cops and robbers in ‘Den of Thieves’

January 19, 2018

by Carla Hay

Gerard Butler and 50 Cent
Gerard Butler and 50 Cent at the New York City press junket for “Den of Thieves” (Photo by Carla Hay)

In the gritty crime drama “Den of Thieves” (written and directed by Christian Gudegast), an elite unit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department named the Regulators is on a mission to bust an elusive gang of bank robbers called the Outlaws.  Gerard Butler plays “Big” Nick O’Brien, the leader of the Regulators, whose rule-bending ways to get what he wants blur the lines between who are the “good guys” and who are the “bad guys.” Pablo Schreiber plays Ray Merriman, the leader of the Outlaws, whose crew members include Enson Levoux (played by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), Bosco Ostroman (played by Evan Jones) and Donnie Wilson, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. Here is what Butler and 50 Cent had to say during a roundtable interview with me and other journalists at the New York City press junket for “Den of Thieves.”

When did you first hear about “Den of Thieves” and how were you cast?

50 Cent: I read the script for the first time six years ago. I met Christian [Gudegast] … and he had an idea of what he wanted the film to look like already. Remember “Smokin’ Aces,” with the bright colors. That was the initial look of the [“Den of Thieves”]. I wanted to be in that because I wanted to be in “Smokin’ Aces” too.

When I got a chance to read the [“Den of Thieves”] script, I thought it wasn’t predictable. I can appreciate a heist film, particularly the action excites me. And then it had a whole feel where there was more to the characters. A lot of times in a heist film, it’s just the film.

Butler: I read the script way back then as well. I was good friends with Christian, and we were already working on a few projects, some of which he had already written. In the middle of this, he said, “I have this script I want you to read called ‘Den of Thieves.’” It was actually back in 2012.

It was at time when I think I had just finished “Olympus Has Fallen,” and I was being very lazy with scripts. I let it sit there for three months. I had two scripts. My agent kept asking me, “Have you read ‘Den of Thieves’ and have you read this other movie?” I said, “No, I haven’t read it.” And I finally read it, and So I called my him and said, “This is so good! Why didn’t you tell me?” He said, “I have been telling you for three months to read the script!”

Even though I was good friends with Christian, I found myself being nervous when I went to see him. Originally, he wanted me to play Merriman. I love the role of Merriman. [He’s like] Steve McQueen, as he doesn’t say much, but he’s so captivating. But “Big” Nick was my guy, and I knew that was the role that I had to try and score and really get my head into. So I went, and I found myself getting nervous and stuttering. And so, from that day, he said, “You want ‘Big’ Nick? ‘Big’ Nick is yours.”

But the problem after that was that it took a while for the movie to get made. It was with a certain company, and they weren’t doing particularly well. The second they got out of the picture, we were ready to make the movie. And it all just unfolded, and we got a chance to tell this incredible story.

Gerard, you mentioned that you were nervous about meeting with Christian to talk about the script, but people have seen you do a lot of badass action films before. Why were you nervous? Was it because the character was hard to read?

Butler: No, it was just complete immaturity on my part. The second I like something, I get nervous. Human nature. I just really wanted to do it. And suddenly, the negative part of my head starts saying, “Oh, I’m sure Christian probably has somebody else in mind for the role.

But what it literally turned out to be was six years of us talking about. When you try to make a movie, it doesn’t mean that you’re trying to make it every day; it comes back around every few months Christian and I had so many dinners where we would sit and talk about this movie and what “Big” Nick and what he meant.

And I remember Tucker Tooley, who’s one of our producers, said, “You and Christian have talked this movie to death.” I said, “I don’t remember! It’s been six years of these discussions!” But sure enough, I did remember. I would get so amped up.

He’s made such a great movie. Christian’s such a fantastic director. He explains things to you because he understands. That’s one of the reasons why the script is so great, because the way he describes things in the script, you’re there. It’s actually very easy to perform because he leads you so beautifully.

One time, he was explaining to me this particular part of the story about “Big” Nick, and we were in Benihana, sitting and talking. [Christian] said to me, “See the way you’re holding that glass? That’s ‘Big’ Nick.” The more I would talk to him, the more I would start to get into ‘Big’ Nick. I then started eating what I thought was raw fish, and I’m eating the whole plate.

I’m chewing and thinking, “This is quite chewy for raw fish.” I’ve been doing it for about 40 minutes, and when I’m on my second plate, he said, “What the fuck are you doing? That’s chicken.” I had eaten two plates of raw chicken, which was supposed to be cooked [at the table]. When the chef came to start cooking it, he was like, “Where’s the chicken?” I had eaten it all, being “Big” Nick!

How do you prefer to be prompted in your scenes by directors?

50 Cent: I like for them to know what they’re asking me to do. Sometimes, the director will give notes, or they’ll explain it, and it won’t be as informative as you’d like them to be. Make an adjustment, fine. But please let me know exactly what the adjustment is. The guys get into the roles so well … We trained ahead for two weeks. The physicalities and movements were all down pat by the time we got there …

I’d sit at the monitor and watch … So I was watching the movie instead of being in it.  I was having so much fun at the same time. I appear to be a workaholic because I’m enjoying myself. We made it fun. We were enjoying ourselves the entire time, but it is still technically work.

Butler: What was amazing was that every single person who was cast in this film is the ultimate alpha male. If you look at this man here [he gestures to 50 Cent] and me, Pablo, O’Shea—we’re all big guys with a lot to say. And yet, you couldn’t see guys bond more in this movie, and everybody having a great time together, and treating each other with a lot of respect, and giving their all. So it was a lot of fun.

Then you had Christian, who—even though it was his first time directing a movie—the guy’s a master. It was like he had done it a thousand times. What I loved about him is that he loved to see people experiment—anything we did that was different.

I was actually the boring one, in a way. I was like, “We already have a long script. We already have a phenomenal script. Sometimes, let’s not have people experiment too much, and get too far away from I know works great on the page.” But I love that he had the confidence to encourage us to do that.

50 Cent: A lot of times, writer/directors, especially on their first time, they fall in love with their words because they spend so much time on it. For six years, we kept going over it. When you write a song, it has your instincts involved … and it could be done in 30 minutes and ready for the world to listen to it.

With a film project, they write it over and over … until they try to make it perfect. When you actually start doing it, your performance choices allow you to make more adjustments … That’s what Christian did really well—he actually watched and listened and gave directions at different points that allowed us to make it great.

How important do you think it is to make your characters more likeable?

50 Cent: I think that it’s important to this story, how the characters have been developed and how you perceive the character. Sometimes I’ll play a guy who is so nasty. Like in the “Power” series, I play Kanan. Less is more. If you don’t see him love anything, you don’t have compassion for him; he’s a monster. If [audiences] don’t see things they can relate to, they don’t accept the character.

Butler: I think that a lot of the most memorable characters are the ones who are messed up. They’re discolored or a bit lost; they can be venomous or bullies. There are a million different colors you can have. I think you can judge that and put it against an audience but make sure you don’t judge and step too far, because there are certain things a character can do where you can lose an audience, and you don’t want to do that. And that was the danger with my [“Big” Nick] character with his unfaithfulness and coming home late in the house. He’s still the lead character and the protagonist and you want to be on his side somewhat

But you can also give truthful assertion of who he is. He’s a cop, and at the end of the day, he’s trying to bring down the bad guys, but that involves some low-life activity. And he’s made the decision that “If I’ve got to beat the worst, I’ve got to be the worst. I’ve got to be worse than them. I’ve got to eat those guys up.”

And that takes a toll on your life, you know? That’s what comes out. A lot of Nick is just playing at being a bad guy. At the end of the day, he’s kind of a big kid. And sometimes, in those moments alone, you realize that he really finds it hard.

Is he a classic definition of what it means to be a man? He’s not a man. He’s a terrible father. He’s a terrible husband. He’s not necessarily a man of his word. However, he’s good at his job, he’s loyal amongst his friends. But other than that, he’s an addict, he’s full of fear, and he’s such a damaged human being. And then at times, it comes up and bites him in the ass. And in the end., he’s just a scared kid.