Cast: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, David Morrissey, Angela Riseborough, Johnny Harris, Peter Mullan
Running time: 96mins
The lowdown: Writer/director/Ridley Scott protégé Eran Creevy follows micro-budgeted winner Shifty with an ambitious crime epic. James McEvoy and Mark Strong lead a strong British cast and there is plot and gunfights to spare, but what Welcome to the Punch lacks is a ring of authenticity or voice of its own. Creevy remains an undoubted talent to watch, but will need to bring something fresh to his style if it’s going to replace his substance.
The full verdict: The title appears onscreen piece-by-piece, Alien style. Plot and visuals are liberally lifted from Hong Kong classics Infernal Affairs and The Killer, plus Michael Mann’s Heat. Nighttime London is so stylishly shot it resembles Akira’s Neo-Tokyo (kudos to DP Ed Wild).
Yet, Welcome to the Punch is a crushing disappointment. A tale of cops, robbers, and highly placed corruption, it’s ultimately more Bugsy Malone than LA Confidential despite the resources available.
McAvoy is Max Lewinsky, and as a side-note try playing a drinking game every time his name is mentioned – you’ll be dead in sixty minutes.
Max has been doggedly pursuing notorious criminal Jacob Sternwood (Strong), who wounded Max years earlier, forcing the copper to daily drain his shattered knee of fluid.
Max’s chance to get his man comes when Sternwood’s son is taken into custody, with a gunshot wound to the belly. But, with the shooting linked to a murder by scary-faced criminal Warns (Harris), the investigation enters shadowy areas with corruption running higher than Max’s pay grade.
Clunky dialogue that kneecaps the screenwriting rule of show-don’t-tell, plotting so predictable the real bad guys are obvious from their first appearance and gunfights involving weapons-trained cops, criminals and ex-soldiers with worse aim than a Star Wars stormtrooper sucker punch Creevy’s movie from the get-go.
The cast are all game, but McAvoy’s asthmatic acting (breathing heavily whenever he misses his man) rings false and Strong’s thinly sketched career criminal is far, far away from his memorable crimelord in Kick Ass.
Andrea Riseborough is given a thankless role as Max’s partner, while David Morrissey is on gravitas duty as a police chief demanding results and Peter Mullan is his usual good value as Sternwood’s second-in-command.
Holes riddle the plot: a major character’s disappearance is of scant concern to their colleagues, a professional killer leaves a vital clue written on the victim’s hand and why does Max repeatedly go into combat situations unarmed?
Not as polished or as much fun as Nick Love’s The Sweeney, this would love to be Heat but is closer to Mann’s Miami Vice misfire, right down to a dockyard climax and a character’s baffling change of heart that nullifies the entire film.
Add on a daft open ending and you’re left with a right old mess.