Movie Review: Thomas Jane wears a badge behind the wheel of his “Crown Vic”

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“Crown Vic” is a grounded and gritty cops-on-the-night-shift melodrama built around a tightly-coiled turn by Thomas Jane.

He plays a 25 year LAPD veteran assigned to FTO (Field Training Officer) duty, mentoring a “transfer cherry” (Luke Kleintank) through his first night on the job.

And that set-up inevitably forces a comparison to “Training Day,” because a century of cop films and seven decades of PD-TV demands it. There have been so many police procedurals that it takes a lot to make such a story stand out, to avoid the label “Training Day Lite.”

On a night when the duo deal with a belligerent drunk BMW princess, a punk who throws something at their Crown Victoria cruiser, a domestic disturbance call, a manic mouthy meth-head, a convenience store theft, a burning SUV (with a “crispy” body in it) and lots of “personal” business, all while two armed and trigger-happy bank robbers are working their way across the city to their patrol zone, we see how difficult it is for writer-director Joel Souza’s film (“Break Night”) to break formula. And it’s impossible for it to avoid melodrama.

Jane is Ray Mandel, a twice-divorced loner whose razzing of the “cherry” is profane and not at all good-natured. It’s “I ain’t your f—–g valet, sweetheart” when the rookie from Oakland makes him wait, “genius” this and “rookie” that.

Nick Holland (Kleintank) is the son of a cop, married, with a baby on the way. Everything he says to anybody else in uniform gets him cussed out. Every bit of “us vs. them” advice from Ray seems confrontational.

“Somebody looks guilty? Watch’em. They look innocent? Watch’em closely!”

Ray’s ethos? This car is “home,” dividing the world between “in here” and “out there.”

Their philosophical debates, common to the genre, reveal Ray’s cynicism — “Married? That’s…optimistic.” — and “dark” and defensive worldview.

“The world was dark when I got here,” he grouses.

He orders the kid to watch him, stay behind him, follow his lead. And the kid does.

Even when they see the roid-and-speed-raging plainclothes detective Jack (Josh Hopkins, way over the top) start the evening amped up, and take things to illegal extremes with a suspect — his partner (David Krumholtz) egging him on.

Even when Ray starts dealing with personal matters having to do with his dead partner’s junkie widow (Bridget Moynahan).

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The highlights here are a nervy opening sequence, a bank robbery as seen from inside and outside of the getaway car (shots fired out, and into the vehicle), and Jane’s flinty performance and smooth mastery of world weariness.

“There’s the person you want to be when you’re young. And there’s the person you wind up being.”

Jane’s Ray Mandel is resigned to that, a lifetime of being most comfortable on the job, most at home in his Crown Vic.

A few moments like the roid-raging detective and a couple of other encounters took me right out of the picture, which is largely a straight-arrow “Adam-12” (this team is “20-Lincoln-14”) dangers and drudgery of the job drama.

Ray can complain that “They think it’s take-a-free-shot-at-a-cop night,” but we see lots of police restraint, none of this shoot-on-suspicion nonsense that has dominated the news about police killings nationwide. “Blue Lives Matter” doesn’t figure into the thinking either.

But Souza’s film reminds us that being apolitical is a political statement, too.

And after all the movies and TV shows, “Training Day” and “Rampart,” “End of Watch” and “Blue Knight” and years and years of “Cops” and “Live PD,” it’s not just the cops who’ve “seen it all.”

“Crown Vic” isn’t a bad picture. It’s just too unexceptional to stand out.

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MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and pervasive language, disturbing content, sexual references, drug material and brief full nudity

cast: Thomas Jane, Luke Kleintank, Josh Hopkins, David Krumholtz and Bridget Moynahan

Credits: Written and directed by Joel Souza. A Screen Media release.

Running time: 1:50

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