The British film industry is overflowing with a wealth of talent, which is what makes its poor output of quality movies so maddening. While there’s never been a short supply of stuffy period dramas and gritty gangster flicks, very few other genres have managed to find much success overseas. Evan Creevy’s sophomore effort, “Welcome to the Punch,” attempts to bridge that gap by delivering a Hollywood-style crime thriller on an indie budget, but although he’s landed an impressive cast of A-list British talent, it’s mostly squandered on a bland and overly predictable script. “Welcome to the Punch” displays a lot more potential than the recently released “The Sweeney,” but it still falls short due a lack of suspense and personality.
Ambitious young detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) is hot on the trail of master thief Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), but after tracking him down to the scene of his latest heist in progress, Sternwood manages to escape and Max gets a bullet in the kneecap for his troubles. Three years later, Jacob is still coping with the events of that night (the scar and accompanying knee pain a constant reminder of his failure), but when Sternwood’s son is fatally wounded during a gun deal gone wrong, Sternwood emerges from his Icelandic hideaway to smoke out the men responsible. Convinced that Sternwood’s vendetta will lead him back to London, Max is given another chance to capture the elusive criminal, only to uncover a deeper conspiracy within his own police department connecting the two crimes.
“Welcome to the Punch” is slightly reminiscent of Michael Mann’s cat-and-mouse thriller “Heat,” but Creevy’s movie pales in comparison. While it boasts a similar visual style to a lot of Mann’s films – saturated in a slick and steely blue hue – the tension is almost non-existent, and although there’s an interesting dynamic at play between McAvoy’s cop and Strong’s robber, it’s never fully explored, nor does it have the same allure of seeing Hollywood heavyweights like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino face off against each other. All of the characters are fairly one-dimensional, and despite a supporting cast that includes Peter Mullan, David Morrissey and Ruth Sheen, they’re absolutely wasted in throwaway roles. British crime movie fixture Jason Flemyng’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearance is perhaps the most egregious of the bunch.
This is a film in dire need of a better script, because not only does it lack punch (especially for a movie with the word in its title), but it’s too complicated for its own good. Creevy may have been aiming to create an intricate, politically-fueled conspiracy that would keep the audience guessing, but instead, he’s ended up with a tangled mess of half-baked ideas and telegraphed plot twists that doesn’t do a particularly good job of explaining anything. A generic crime thriller in just about every way, “Welcome to the Punch” looks great and features a couple of nifty gunfights, but it’s ultimately a case of style over substance, and one that its top-notch British ensemble is unable to rescue.