2019 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: Police Officers working the overnight shift face incredible challenges. Filmmakers often are fascinated by these men and women, seeing their choice of employment as a statement about who they are. In its best moments, “Crown Vic” aims to figure out why someone chooses and/or stays on that particular tour. This aspect of the movie is fairly strong. However, too much else in this 110 minute running time is filled with cliches and a desire to up the excitement level. The quieter moments work really well, though they’re sadly few and far between.
“Crown Vic” doesn’t trust its own ambitions. The more believable and realistic the film aims to be, the better the story told. It’s those “movie moments,” which sink this film. They feel out of place and shoehorned in where they’re not needed. Filmmaker Joel Souza starts off on the right foot but stumbles more and more as elements move towards an unsatisfying denouement.
Set over the course of one night, we follow veteran Los Angeles cop Ray Mandel (Thomas Jane) as he shows new partner Nick Holland (Luke Kleintank) the ropes. Ray is as much the jaded old hand at this as Nick is wet behind the ears. Some early troubles for the latter make it seem as though this is going to be an exhausting tour. Not only does Ray need to train Nick, but he’s also never trained anyone before, having been just given this assignment after the death of his partner.
As Ray and Nick patrol their section of town, they run into all sorts of characters, from gang members to drunk rich girls out to party. There are even fellow cops like the jokey Stoke Adams (David Krumholtz) and unhinged Jack VanZant (Josh Hopkins). However, there’s also a pair of cop killers on the loose, in the midst of a murderous crime spree. But there is no telling if our heroes will run into them before the evening comes to a close.
Thomas Jane hasn’t been this good in a long while. He aces the weariness his character must feel. Ray isn’t a crooked cop, but he’s the type you likely wouldn’t have a positive experience with. The film struggles when it explains why he is the way he is, though it’s hardly Jane’s fault. It’s a moving performance. Luke Kleintank remains a blank slate throughout, however, making his arc harder to care about. They never establish much chemistry, existing as two separate entities. Kleintank is believable as an inexperienced officer, but the draw ends there. Jane is the one who pulls audiences, retaining attention. The aforementioned supporting turns, including Bridget Moynahan, are broad and bring circumstances to a screeching halt. Whenever things expand beyond the protagonists, it gets rough.
Writer/director Joel Souza is his own worst enemy here. His direction is unremarkable from a visual angle, but it depicts his vision in a clear and concise manner. It’s his script that causes the trouble. Souza can’t avoid the cliches which ultimately sink “Crown Vic.” The killers on the loose, Ray’s relationship with the widow of his dead partner, and Nick’s wife constantly calling, they distract from the narrative instead of enhancing it. These moments ring false and feel like stuffed in movie moments. When we’re not engaging in those elements, the banter and simple policing being shown is actually rather engrossing.
Overall, “Crown Vic” feels like a missed opportunity. A simple look at a night tour for members of the LAPD probably is better suited for a documentary, but it could have worked here. Those moments do work. It’s the B-movie additions that are the rough stuff. Those parts are better left to late night cable films, not Tribeca titles.