Writer-director Eran Creevy (‘Shifty’) delivers an edgy yet disjointed British crime drama in the convoluted ‘Welcome To The Punch’. Although sporting an inspired and catchy movie title, Creevy’s high-octane crime caper feels relentlessly recycled as yet another labored and lumbering gangster flick that dines on fueled gunplay but wallows in empty-minded gumption.
No doubt that ‘Welcome To The Punch’ aspires to be within the action-packed and off-kilter realm of corruption in such dynamic ditties as ‘State Of Play’, ‘Heat’ or any given Guy Ritchie/John Woo/Ridley Scott/Michael Mann confection of irreverent shoot em’ up cinema that we have seen countless times over. Creevy craves to wink at this London-style “street of hard knocks” drama with grainy grit and slam-bam impishness but ‘Welcome To The Punch’ is merely procedural in its attempt at roguish underbelly corrosiveness.
Marred by spotty direction and carousing connect-the-dots writing, ‘Welcome To The Punch’ does assemble an impressive cast of performers led by the underrated boyish-looking James McAvoy, portraying a scrappy Brit police detective named Max Lewinsky whose ambitious (although foolish) pursuit of masked motorcycle-riding safecrackers without packing a weapon results in the fleeing culprits shooting out his knee in squeamish fashion. The hyperactive opening sequence throws the heist scene in the audience’s face to trigger the intensity at an early stage in the mangled craziness.
So now a hobbled and disillusioned Lewinsky finds himself obsessed with capturing the crime ring that left him disabled. Lewinsky is determined to track down the elusive leader of the baddies. Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’) with the aid of his trusted partner, Sarah Hawkes (Andrea Riseborough).
As three years have elapsed, a physically and emotionally shattered Lewinsky is still trying to solve the heist that left him in psychological shambles. However, Lewinsky has a chance to reel in his old nemesis, Sternwood, when Jacob’s teen son (Elyes Gabel) decides to go into the robbery family business and gets caught in the act. With his son hospitalised after the botched robbery and under police surveillance, Sternwood has to come out of hiding and figure out how to dodge the clutches of dogged Detective Max Lewinsky.
Can Max finally find the redemption in tracking down his disabling foe in the cunning Jacob? Will Jacob’s treasured aged mentor (Peter Mullen) be instrumental in assuring that the crime game is still actively circulating in his legal-bending bloodline? Is it possible for Max to overlook the shady tactics in the tug-of-war between his police departmental colleagues and the unctuous politicians? Can Max confide in the questionable motivations of his police chief (David Morrissey) that may or may not be on the take?
Invariably, ‘Welcome To The Punch’ succumbs to its revolving murky machinations of cat-and-mouse foreplay that never quite develops into anything percolating or persistent. The film is starkly on target when it makes use of the East London locales that gives the film its grimy urgency and hardcore personality. Otherwise, Creevy’s muddled exposition lingers on an unoriginal and atmospheric thriller with stock gunfights, an occasional colorful quip and a somber undertone comparable to a prime time TV cop show.
McAvoy does not seem at ease as the hard-boiled cop Lewinsky and his coupling with female tag-a-long Riseborough warrants no particular interest of tension or hidden attraction. As the veteran criminal mastermind whom Jacob Sternwood idolises, Mullen is a welcomed hoot, as is Ruth Sheen who plays a crook’s darkly comical nasty-mouthed elderly mother. Strong is devilishly winning as the criminal creep Jacob, who serves as the irritant to McAvoy’s hangdog investigator.
Sadly, the welcoming Punch to this English suspense piece is nothing but a dismissive slap in the sweepstakes of badgered souls living on the brim of lightweight lunacy.
Welcome to the Punch (2013)
1 hr. 38 mins.
Starring: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough, Peter Mullen, David Morrissey, Johhny Harris, Dannielle Brent and Ruth Sheen
Directed by: Eran Creevy
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Genre: Crime Drama/Action Adventure/Mystery & Suspense
Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)