*1/2 (out of four)
For a B-movie about street fighting, titles don’t get much better than “Welcome to the Punch.” Unless you call your movie, I don’t know, “The Time Your Balls Met My Foot.”
Sadly, the Punch is just a location in “Welcome to the Punch,” which is actually a serious and seriously clichéd British crime flick with cops and criminals who have never heard of a trap.
Obsessive cop Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy, pulling double duty with this week’s “Trance”) deliberately suggests moving a young man to a public hospital to lure his dad, career criminal Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong). Jacob turns up immediately, his disguise consisting of a baseball cap that doesn’t even cover his face. He seems surprised to arrive and find Max, whom Jacob shot three years earlier and who still holds a wicked grudge.
Max’s fixation just seems unprofessional, considering London supposedly is experiencing a higher level of violent crime than the U.S. (doubtful) and this allegedly talented policeman can barely handle covering one case at a time. Writer-director Eran Creevy barely delivers a sense of place that would reinforce a community in fear and a crime-fighting force whose disillusionment leaves them vulnerable to the sort of corruption that pretty much turns up in every movie like this. He also acknowledges in the press notes a love of films like “Heat” and “Infernal Affairs” and then feebly tries to rip them off.
Reliable character actors (including Peter Mullan and David Morrissey) provide cool and/or toughness that Creevy rarely achieves in the action sequences, such as Jacob’s opening robbery in which he and his crew oh-so-inconspicuously work using matching suits, gas masks and motorcycles even though the city is abandoned anyway. Andrea Riseborough (“Disconnect”) co-stars as McAvoy’s partner, who he of course tries to kiss because paired cops of the opposite sex can’t possibly have a platonic relationship.
Less than two months ago, “The Sweeney” covered similar ground with more style. “Welcome to the Punch” assumes that cops and crime are fascinating by default, even with a total lack of distinctive personality to the characters or conspiracy. When Max finally gets a chance to ask Jacob why the killer didn’t kill him when he had the chance, the answer is as unsatisfying as the movie.
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