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Do you smell the Bacon?

You should: The smoke from the griddle is all over the place in this sweaty-palm inducing neo-noir by Jon Watts (who is slated to direct the next “Spiderman”).

Kevin Bacon stars as a scary mustachioed bad cop who gives new meaning to “carnal appetite” — and it had nothing to do with sex. Bacon exudes a powerful aura that evokes scarred flesh and excessive brutality, as if he had just been to a slaughterhouse and loved the experience.

Cop Car
Rating
Run Time 88 mins
Language English
Opens APRIL 9

“Cop Car” has a simple premise. Two 10-year-old runaways and best friends Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford) are walking through a Colorado field, challenging each other to say the dirtiest swear words they can think of. Then, they see it: a patrol car in the middle of a ditch — doors unlocked and keys in the ignition.

What else would a pair of 10-year-olds do but try swigs of beer from the bottles stashed in the back and take the car for a spin? (Between the two of them, they’ve racked up more than enough video-game hours to know how to drive.) The bad news is that the owner of the car is the town’s no-good sheriff Kretzer (Bacon). The worse news is that Kretzer’s coming after them with everything he’s got. Up to his neck in dirty business, Kretzer has also locked up something in the trunk that needs to be disposed of — fast.

This is Watts’ second feature (after the intriguing indie supernatural horror “Clown”) and his first time in the major leagues. You can see the film buff’s starry-eyed homage to Rob Reiner’s “Stand By Me” — Travis even bears a strong resemblance to River Phoenix — and the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo” and “Blood Simple.”

Everything goes wrong for Kretzer, but that’s not to say it goes well for the two boys, and the ensuing chaos is a masterful blend of bleak darkness and sardonic hilarity. The cat-and-mouse game is expertly told, but the movie falls short of sustaining the splendid tension it creates in the first half hour, and the thrill of the chase peters out with little in the way of a back story or plot twists.

Though the narrative may be crepe-thin, the performances are stand-outs, especially those by the two pre-adolescents who hold their own in the same frame with an A-lister like Bacon. In the early 2000s, the Japanese movie industry held onto a notion that it was difficult to make a good movie with kids under 15 and/or animals, but Travis and Harrison prove that theory wrong by propeling the story forward, even as it slogs its way to an unsatisfying, and some may say largely confusing, end. Bacon is his usual intense self, and the way Kretzer moves or locks his gaze on someone weaker than himself is testament to Bacon’s honed film persona of a menacing, calculating bully. You just do not want to be around this guy, especially in a confined space like a car.

With the threat of Kretzer looming over their every action and dominating their every thought, even the wide Colorado sky and the open roads feel too small for Travis and Harrison. The one thing they do have going for them, however, is that they’re not vulnerable kids, or even nice ones. Of course, they’re not murderous like Kretzer, but the they both display slivers of evil that could possibly be used as weapons against the sheriff.

Through it all, Bacon is super-efficient and Watts maximizes his presence in “Cop Car” to a frighteningly claustrophobic and creepy factor, ridding every frame of extraneous detail or information. It’s just him and the boys with their mounting terror inside a black-and-white patrol car.

The plot could have used a bit more fleshing out, but as it is “Cop Car” is as ripped as Kevin Bacon, or at least as someone in the habit of lifting weights while on a lean paleo diet.

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