Incomplete Throughlines explain why this film feels like a short stretched into a mediocre feature.
If you want to see a cool Kevin Bacon performance then see Cop Car; don't bother if you want a cool story. Stylistic and subtle, minimalist in its presentation, Cop Car fails to offer enough Throughlines to function effectively as a story.
Cop Car feels like a great short stretched into a mediocre feature.
And that's because most short films don't have enough time to provide the necessary four Throughlines to tell a complete story. Stories need an Objective Story Throughline, a Main Character Throughline, an Influence Character Throughline, and a Relationship Story Throughline. Leave one of these out and the Audience will sense that something is missing; they will feel cheated. They can often be forgiving within the context of a short film, but a feature length film? Not often.
Cop Car gives us the Objective Story Throughline of two boys stealing an abandoned police vehicle--but that's it. There is a hint of a Main Character Throughline with Harrison and his growth into a brave hero, but like the film itself, that personal Throughline--our key into the film's events--is sparse and underdeveloped. As a result, we don't become intimately involved with the narrative and we could care less what happens to these people.
His best friend acts as a kind-of sort-of Influence Character, but not really. And without a fully developed Relationship Story Throughline between them, the film lacks the kind of heart the film referenced in many of them Cop Car's reviews--Stand By Me--has in abundance.
Narratives lacking four Throughlines are not stories, they are tales. A simple A to B plot whose only meaning can be appreciated by comparing the end to the beginning. Stories argue that a particular approach is the only approach, regardless of where one enters the timeline of events.
Cop Car is a tale from beginning to end, explaining its low ratings and the feeling of incompleteness.