Social media has become such a pervasive force in popular culture that we can’t get a break from it even at the movies. Cop thrillers used to be perfectly fine in the analog era, but now they need to be gussied up with digital elements. Case in point: Line of Duty, about a policeman whose every move during his pursuit of a dangerous criminal is live-streamed by a precocious young vlogger. It’s hard to imagine Dirty Harry putting up with that sort of nonsense.
Fortunately, the new actioner directed by the prolific Steven C. Miller (First Kill, Arsenal, Marauders) proves fast-paced enough to overcome its more ludicrous plot elements. And the presence of Aaron Eckhart in the lead role is a welcome change of pace from the director’s usual go-to stars Bruce Willis and Nicolas Cage.
A cop thriller for the social media era.
Eckhart, currently seen in the war film Midway, plays Frank Penny, who’s seen better days, having been demoted at his job for reasons that go unexplained until late in the film. He lives alone and spends his mornings morosely reading the sports pages over a solitary breakfast. On the job, Frank walks a beat and spends most of his time bantering with neighborhood kids. But he finds himself unexpectedly called into action when he pursues a suspect in the kidnapping of an 11-year-old girl. The entire force seems to be involved in the chase, which isn’t surprising since the victim is the daughter of the police chief (Giancarlo Esposito, whose talents are wasted in a role mainly defined by angry bellowing).
Unfortunately for Frank, he’s forced to shoot the suspect dead before he can provide any more information other than the cryptic remark, “Ask him how it feels to lose everything.” The incident is captured live by enterprising vlogger journalist Ava (Courtney Eaton), who works for a website called Media4thepeople.com.
Ava proceeds to follow Frank around as he goes rogue and attempts to track down the suspect’s accomplice (Ben McKenzie, finding endless ways to snarl the epithet “Cop!”) in defiance of the angry chief’s orders. Everything Frank does is shown live online, and there’s a lot to see, as the vast majority of the pic’s running time is consumed by car and foot chases, shootouts and hand-to-hand fights, all staged in frenetic, visceral fashion. Along the way, social media reactions are shown via onscreen graphics, indicating that Frank’s exploits have attracted a rabid following.
Other than the social media component, it’s all pretty generic stuff, despite the efforts of screenwriter Jeremy Drysdale to provide some snappy repartee for the mismatched Frank and Ava during the brief lulls between action sequences. But the movie proves entertaining nonetheless, thanks to Eckhart’s charismatic, slyly humor-tinged performance as the burnt-out cop seeking one last chance at redemption. The actor fully leans into the macho aspects of his character, but gives just enough hints that he’s aware of the ridiculousness of what’s transpiring.
His talents are not enough, however, to make you swallow the eventual camaraderie that develops between Frank and his ultra-annoying, tied-at-the-hip videographer. Or the ridiculously melodramatic ending that will make you reconsider any fondness you ever had for flash mobs. Not to mention the endless shots of the city skyline that make you think the majority of the film’s budget was spent on helicopters.
Production companies: Solution Entertainment Group, Hassik Films, Ingenious Media, Sentient Pictures, Sprockefeller Pictures
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: Aaron Eckart, Courtney Eaton, Ben McKenzie, Giancarlo Esposito, Jessica Lu, Dina Meyer, Nickola Shreli, James Hitchison, Elijah Cooper, Betsy Landin
Director: Steven C. Miller
Screenwriter: Jeremy Dysdale
Producers: Myles Nestel, Craig Chapman, Scott Lastaiti
Executive producers: Tiffany Boyle, Christelle Conan, Stephen Emery, Tara Finegan, Adam Goldworm, Phil Hunt, Ryan R. Johnson, Elsa Ramo, Compton Ross, Jonathan Saba
Director of photography: Brandon Cox
Production designer: Niko Vilaivongs
Editor: Stan Selfas
Composer: The Newton Brothers
Costume designer: Critter Pierce
Casting: Michelle Lewitt
Rated R, 98 minutes