Film review: Welcome to the Punch (15)

There’s nothing very arresting in off-the-peg police thriller, writes Siobhan Synnot

Welcome To The Punch (15)

Director: Eran Creevy

Running time: 99 minutes

* * *

ERAN Creevy’s slick policier is a brave mix of James McAvoy, police corruption, hyperactive skulduggery, pounding fight scenes and night-time chases thrown into a Ridley Scott blender and garnished with a little moody male existentialism. The result may be digestible, but it’s not terribly nutritious.

McAvoy plays Max, a detective with shrapnel in his knee and revenge in mind after a chase sequence at the start of the film shows him failing to foil a heist, and getting shot by the gang’s ringleader Sternwood (Mark Strong). Some years later McAvoy is injecting painkillers into the gristle in his kneejoint and brooding like a woman given washing up gloves for Mothers’ Day. This causes his partner (Andrea Riseborough) some anxiety and his boss (David Morrissey) some exasperation, until finally Max is galvanised out of his funk by the news that Sternberg has been forced to return to the UK from his Icelandic hideaway.

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I admired Creevy’s last film, Shifty, a low-budget study of drug dealers on a housing estate which signalled a writer-director with a gift for making familiar movie scenarios feel fresh again. However the most charitable assumption you can take away from Welcome To The Punch is that, in an increasingly conservative filmmaking climate, young moviemakers are being urged to make movies that replicate Tinseltown’s slickness and ­globalised homogeneity, rather than take risks with original movie-making.

Welcome To The Punch isn’t bad, but it flails ­instead of packing any sort of punch. Toggling between sleek Michael Mann chases and Sweeneyesque procedural grit, Creevy has flashes of inspiration – a sequence where a villain’s dear old gran unwittingly allows herself to be taken hostage is both funny and ferocious – but Creevy’s storytelling lacks complexity, his dialogue is boilerplate and his characters lean on grimace rather than generating real menace.

The film’s better actors, such as Strong and Peter Mullan, do their best with material that lacks moral or experiential weight by hitting their allotted character notes and moving on. McAvoy offers another of his stricken young men, while Morrissey, good sport that he is, has to play a senior policeman who is oblivious to some very obvious budget cutting that is going on under his nose. I especially liked the thrifty version of a press conference where Morrissey stands on some stairs while the entire national press can fit into the stairwell below, holding tape recorders and cameras aloft for what appears to be a 20-minute press call. Never has there been a more optimistic tribute to the stamina of our triceps and biceps.

Less a film, more a pilot for one of those undemanding weekday police dramas that ITV churns out, Welcome To The Punch would be a lot more welcome if the action was less relentlessly generic and its characters less off-the-peg. «

On general release from Friday.

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