Writer & director Joe Carnahan knows how to make ultra-violent action epics with gun-toting tough guys who wade into blood, gore, and profanity galore. Embarking on his directorial career with “Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane” (1998), Carnahan crafted hardboiled thrillers like “Narc” (2002), “Smokin’ Aces” (2006), the big-screen “The A-Team” (2010), “Stretch” (2014), and “Boss Level” (2021).

“The A-Team” ranks as his best movie, but nobody saw it. Stepping outside his man vs. man thrillers, Carnahan pitted Liam Neeson against a great white timber wolf in his man vs. creature feature “The Grey” (2011), but it lacked an appropriate ending. Meantime, Carnahan knows how tough guys look, drink, swear, shoot, and die.

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Carnahan’s crime thrillers bristle with more grit than glamor and teem with hardluck heroes and gimlet-eyed villains. Sadly, Carnahan’s latest movie “Copshop” (*** OUT OF ****) isn’t half as much fun as his previous pictures. Primarily, the characters talk too much.

Worse, the far-fetched ending suggests our hero won, but nobody told the wounded female deputy sheriff. Cast as an unsavory assassin who has never missed a target in his entire life, Gerard Butler takes a walk on the wicked side as an unscrupulous villain. Once and for all, he aims to catch up with veteran tough guy Frank Grillo and terminate this nimble con artist.

The “Copshop” cast is flawless, especially African American actress Alexis Louder, who plays a plucky deputy sheriff. She prefers a single-action Colt .45 caliber revolver to a 9mm automatic pistol. Gifted as Carnahan’s cast is, supporting actor Toby Huss of “Destroyer” (2018) steals the show. A gawky, smart-aleck, trigger-happy assassin with no qualms about homicide, he runs up the highest body count and has an unforgettable entrance. Moreover, he provides crucial comic relief.

Basically, “Copshop” belongs to those movies where everything occurs under one roof. The Kurt McLeod and Joe Carnahan screenplay, based on a story by McLeod and Mark Williams, confines the action to an isolated county lock-up.

This elaborate Nevada jail boasts an open rectangular balcony overlooking all work stations on the first floor. The cells are located off-camera. Meanwhile, this sheriff’s office looks far too immaculate to be realistic. Although the sheriff’s deputies all wear Nevada state shoulder patches, Carnahan lensed “Copshop” on location in New Mexico. Happily, no more than ten minutes is wasted on setting up the premise.

When rookie Deputy Sheriff Valerie Young (Alexis Louder of “Black Panther”) breaks up a street brawl, an unknown assailant assaults her. When Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo of “Avengers: Endgame”) struck Young in the face, he wanted to be arrested and locked up so he could elude an assassin in hot pursuit.

Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler of “Greenland”) out smarts Teddy and gets himself arrested for DUI and stuck in the cell opposite Teddy. Mind you, Bob is no nice guy. When his drunken cell mate awakens and vows to beat him up, Bob slugs him in the throat repeatedly so the drunk cannot breathe.

Slashing the drunk’s throat, Deputy Young inserts a tube so he doesn’t drown in his own blood. Meantime, Teddy realizes he must break out of his cell. Deputy Young grilles him about his alibi and gradually learns Teddy is a treacherous liar never to be trusted.

“Copshop” bogs down in tough guy talk. Viddick warns Teddy he is going to ice him. Teddy jousts verbally with Young to release him. Young demands the truth. During this three-way conversation, all hell breaks loose in the Sheriff’s station.

A goofy looking cretin from a party gags delivery service enters the sheriff’s station with several colorful balloons. Anthony Lamb (Toby Huss) smiles and shoots the desk sergeant with a silenced automatic pistol and then brandishes a lightweight submachine gun. Slaughtering two more deputies, Lamb goes gunning for Deputy Sheriff Young. Our heroic heroine finds sanctuary in the bullet-proof jailor’s substation.

Although she has thwarted Lamb from killing Teddy and herself, Young discovers she has wounded herself accidentally when one of her .45 caliber bullets ricocheted and struck her. During this lull in the action, Lamb recruits a crooked deputy sheriff, Huber (Ryan O’Nan of “Freelancers”), to help him break into the cell block.

Huber wields a sledge hammer and smashes it repeatedly into the wall. Naturally, an anxious Teddy fears Young will bleed out, and Lamb will kill him. Teddy uses his silver tongue to persuade Young to release him, so he can kill Lamb and return with help. Viddick isn’t surprised when Teddy welches on his deal.

Gerard Butler gets his share of the action and emerges as the hero. Nevertheless, he spends a lot of time off screen, while Teddy and Young clash about the former’s criminal record and his lies. Actually, Alexis Louder should have received top billing because she is the heroine.

She improvised, cut a hole in an inmate’s throat and saved his life. Unfortunately, this inmate ends up as part of Lamb’s body count. Nevertheless, Young proved that she could mend wounds like Sylvester Stallone’s self-reliant “Rambo” character.

Frank Grillo always makes a charismatic villain. He is particularly slimy as Teddy Murretto. The high body count compensates for the lull in the action between the time Young shoots herself and Viddick escapes. “El Chicano” cinematographer Juan Miguel Azpiroz creates atmospheric lighting that enhances the suspense, while Carnahan’s long-time editor Kevin Hale cuts the action so the film benefits from a muscular rhythm.

Despite its gruesome humor, Carnahan wants us to treat this tale of murder and intrigue with sobriety. The split-screen ending with Young commandeering an ambulance to pursue Viddick has a “to be continued” look that defies credibility but leaves you grinning.

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