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COPSHOP: 3 ½ STARS. “energy, suspense and a dark sense of humour.”

Director Joe Carnahan’s films are usually high octane, ultraviolent affairs that don’t spare the blood or the bullets. His latest, “Copshop,” now playing in theatres, walks a similar path but doesn’t forget to bring the fun along for the journey.

Set in Nevada, much of the action takes place at the sleepy Gun Creek Police Department. Earlier in the evening con artist Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo) was arrested after he sucker punched Officer Valerie Young (Alexis Louder) outside a casino. He’s a bad guy who should be avoiding the police but circumstances forced his hand because an even worse guy, hitman Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler), had tracked him down.

The quick-thinking con man figures Viddick won’t go near him if he’s in jail.

He figured wrong.

Turning the tables on Murretto, Viddick manages to get himself brought in on a bogus drunk driving charge. The hunter and the hunter are now just one cell apart. Young knows something nefarious is going on, and is determined to get to the bottom of it, even if Murretto warns her to keep her nose of his business.

“This is way beyond anything you want to get involved in lady,” he says. “You don’t understand.”

“No,” she replies, “you don’t understand how incredibly bored I am.”

“Copshop” has echoes of “Assault on Precinct 13.” Like the 1976 drama, most of the action happens inside the station and the cops and baddies must work together to find safety. The barebones storytelling builds quiet tension before Toby Huss shows up as sadistic killer Anthony Lamb. He’s quick with a bullet and a one-liner. Eyeing Teddy’s tight manbun he jokes, “You look just like Tom Cruise in that samurai movie nobody watched.”

Huss chews the scenery, breathing life into a man who brings death. He’s a hoot, simultaneously menacing and just a bit ridiculous.

Grillo and Butler are perfectly matched adversaries. They are the source of the cat-and-mouse plot; character actors laying the groundwork for the events that are the movie’s engine. Just as impressive is Louder as the no-nonsense Young. She’s at the center of the movie, the one character everyone will root for.

“Copshop” is a simple b-action movie that feels like a holdover from the 1970s. There are some generic elements, like side characters who seem to have walked straight out of Central Casting, but Carnahan makes up for that with energy, suspense and a dark sense of humour.

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