Director: Eran Creevy
Starring: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, David Morrissey, Andrea Riseborough
Running time: 99 mins
Release date: March 15
London acquires the look and feel of an exotic megacity in Evan Creevy’s action-packed Welcome to the Punch, marking a departure from the norm that is not quite as desirable as it might first sound.
Max Lewisnsky (James McAvoy) is a cop who is badly injured after a confrontation with arch nemesis Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) following a heist. His poor judgment allows bad guy Sternwood to slip between his fingers and vanish into the underground. Lewinky’s credibility within the force is damaged and, sapped of his vitality, he trundles along through the day-to-day grind of everyday police work. But when Sternwood’s son ends up in hospital after being shot, hope is reborn with the prospect of the elusive criminal re-emerging. A cat-and-mouse game ensues, but what the two fail to realise is that their story is but one element of a complex conspiracy—and the consequences for both men could be fatal.
There is a political storm brewing in the city because gun crime is rapidly spiralling out of control. Well, supposedly—there are few everyday citizens in this film, just a handful of cops and robbers chasing each other around a vast but sparsely populated urban space, usually at nighttime. This after-hours emphasis is appropriate, because the viewer is in the dark as to the nature of vital plot developments. Characters disappear only to pop up dead 35 minutes later with little explanation as to how or why. Others seem integral to the wider conspiracy, but the nature of their relationship to unseen co-conspirators is a mystery.
McAvoy and Strong embrace their roles with gusto; McAvoy as the sullen cop with a short fuse and a heavy heart, Strong as the career criminal with a haunted look permanently etched on his face. McAvoy is not short on application, but it is difficult to reconcile his boyish looks with the character he portrays. The Scot has said that Lewsinsky and Sternwood are ‘just like the two guys in Heat‘, but that is a bit of a stretch when so little is revealed about their motivations and the history of their relationship. The two don’t have much to say for themselves any time they are within earshot of one another and the actors’ efforts are rendered redundant as a result.
In some ways Welcome to the Punch is indeed reminiscent of Heat, and of Hong Kong flick Infernal Affairs. The action scenes are well choreographed, with thrilling chases, explosions and tension-filled standoffs. But the marriage of style and substance is wholly absent. Creevy seems to have made a concerted effort to keep the audience out of the loop, holding his cards close to his chest until the big reveal during the final moments. That might suit some viewers just fine, but posterity is unlikely to look favourably upon this disjointed and forgettable venture.