Producers: Mark Williams, Tai Duncan, Warren Goz, Eric Gold, Joe Carnahan, Frank Grillo, Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel and James Masciello   Director: Joe Carnahan   Screenplay: Kurt McLeod and Joe Carnahan   Cast: Gerard Butler, Frank Grillo, Alexis Louder, Toby Huss, Ryan O’Han, Chad Coleman, José Cantillo, Kaiwi Lyman, Robert Walker-Branchaud and Tracey Bonner   Distributor: Open Road Films

Grade: B-

Since making his debut with the awful “Blood Guts Bullets & Octane” more than two decades ago, writer-director Joe Carnahan has devoted himself to making empty-headed action movies with lots of macho clichés and Tarantino-esque tough-guy dialogue.  Once in a while (“The Grey”) he’s been able to make the recipe work, thanks to his admitted talent for staging brainless violence, but more often than not the result has been a stupid, gory mess.  “Copshop” is one of his better efforts: it’s trash, but well-executed trash, and should satisfy anybody looking for visceral excitement that requires no effort to think.

The inspiration here would appear to be “Assault on Precinct 13,” whether John Carpenter’s 1976 original or Jean-François Richet’s 2005 original, but the premise is more contrived.  Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo, surely one of the busiest actors in the business today) is on the run after having turned snitch against some powerful bigwigs, and gets himself incarcerated in a Nevada jail by assaulting straight-arrow local cop Valerie Young (Alexis Louder).  Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler, with a beard designed to show he’s not in his hero mode), a hit-man with a contract to eliminate him, crashes drunkenly into a wreck being investigated by a couple state troopers to get himself arrested and installed in the cell across the hall from Murretto—a ploy to knock him off, of course. 

Although there are plenty of cops on duty, Young and her voluble boss Sergeant Mitchell (Chad Coleman) are the only two in the building who seem to be on the ball, and before long she’s alone.  That’s because Viddick arranges to remove Mitchell from the equation by attacking his seedy cellmate, and a second hit-man arrives at the station—maniacal Anthony Lamb (Toby Huss).  He wipes out everyone besides Young and Officer Huber (Ryan O’Han), a crooked cop who’s his confederate.  And in the bloodbath she’s wounded. 

Young is thus faced with a dilemma—she has to trust either Murretto or Viddick to help her against Lamb and Huber, though neither is trustworthy.  How the game among them plays out consumes the rest of the movie, and it involves plenty of snarls, sneers and snide remarks from the bad guys and heroics from the deputy, along with twists, turns, reversals, double-crosses, chases, gunplay, violence and hair’s-breadth escapes.  The goal is nothing deeper than visceral excitement, and on that score “Copshop” delivers.

Butler is the big name in the cast, with Grillo not far behind for those who cultivate cut-rate action pictures, and both fill the bill.  But though they’re fine, you’ll definitely come out of the movie remembering Louder and Huss.  She provides plenty of sass, spunk and righteous anger, while he offers the sort of gleeful malice that made Richard Widmark a star in “Kiss of Death” way back in 1947.  It’s a major cut of ham, of course, but wildly enjoyable up to the point when Lamb goes to the slaughter.  Coleman’s wacky bluster and O’Han’s oily sliminess add some spice to the mix.  A small army of stuntpeople are listed in the credits, and one can only hope that injuries were few.

The technical contributions do their part as well.  John Billington’s production design gives plenty of space for the action choreography—this is one spacious, up-to-date facility—though the layout isn’t perfectly clear, while Juan Miguel Azpiroz’s swirling camera and Kevin Hale’s spiffy editing keep the energy level high.  Clinton Shorter’s music pumps things up as well.

If you require even a hint of a heart beneath the surface, “Copshop” isn’t for you.  But if all you require is a cinematic adrenaline rush, look no further.