Three years ago there was a major bank heist in central London, and cop Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) was on the case, tracking the criminals as they had knocked out the guards at the bank with gas and helped themselves to the loot, then escaped on motorcycles with the cash in holdalls on their backs. But Lewinsky pursued them in his car until they tried to shake him off by heading into an underground car park, the barrier to the exit they used being an impediment to his vehicle. With the voice of his superior ringing in his ears over the radio, he ran after them on foot, which proved costly...
If you've ever wondered why British cinema can't quite cut the mustard when it comes to emulating the action cop thrillers of the United States or Hong Kong, it is something of a mystery when the basic guns 'n' geezers genre was so likely to fall back on sub-Guy Ritchie efforts, with even Guy Ritchie committing that sin, which may have been more identifiably from the British Isles but wasn't particularly satisfying unless you wanted an easy accompaniment to your pizza and lager without having to use up too many braincells. Thus Welcome to the Punch should have been a shot in the arm to the nation's thrillers.
It undoubtedly looked the part, and there were plenty of people who on seeing how slick director Eran Creevy could be were very well disposed towards giving this more than a chance, yet as it progressed it became more and more difficult to get on with. It was curious, as it was making all the right moves but proved alienating, so while the Hollywood variations on the detective hunting down the master criminal could be as glossy as a Michael Mann film or as gritty as a Martin Scorsese, in effect Creevy could only fashion what looked like a slavish copy without the substance to back it up. What do you need substance for, you may ask? Did you come away from Bad Boys glad you had so much to chew over?
Probably not, and it was true this was not aiming to be intellectually stimulating or provocative, but then it was very hard to understand what it was getting at as it fell between many stools instead of perching atop one and surveying the possibilities. There was a move towards social relevance which initially appeared to be an endorsement of arming the British bobby on the beat, but then more interestingly admitted that you probably wouldn't want guns to be in the hands of the sort of officers we saw here, what with the rampant corruption and shoot first, ask questions later activities going on. McAvoy gargled with an apparent Essex accent as he struggled with his leg injury, having been shot in the first five minutes by Mark Strong's kingpin Sternwood, so we didn't want the crims with shooters either.
But we assuredly got them, although by the end we were in "Who is the real villain?" clichés as cardboard targets fell away to reveal another revelation of the big bad guy which you would have seen countless times before. Frustratingly, it wasn't all terrible and you could see the potential: some action scenes were appropriately kinetic even if actually hitting someone you're aiming for is a rarity, and the cast set their jaws and were mean and moody enough to suggest a better film in here than you actually got. One sequence stood out in that regard, a truly excellent five minutes where Max, Sternwood and his right hand man (Peter Mullan) show up at the house of the main hitman (Johnny Harris, first place in the Eddie Marsan lookalike contest) and hold his nan (Ruth Sheen) hostage without her realising. This part is a superb piece of tension because you know they're all nasty men to some degree, so it's a matter of who blinks first. That apart, Welcome to the Punch was ambitious enough, but fumbled overall, and that was a pity. Music by Harry Escott.