‘Welcome to the Punch’
Director: Eran Creevy
Stars: James McAvoy, Mark Strong
3 (out of 5) Globes
“Welcome to the Punch” was once on the “Brit List,” the English equivalent of Hollywood’s “Black List,” which rounds up the best scripts so far unproduced. Don’t think that automatically means originality: “Punch” shares much in common with another recent British crime release “The Sweeney,” including absurdly dedicated detectives and the same character shockingly killed off. It might as well be titled “Generic English Police Thriller #475-3a,” notable only for being capably executed and for making ubiquitous gravel-voiced bulletheaded baddie, Mark Strong, for a change, a partly sympathetic gravel-voiced bulletheaded baddie.
James McAvoy plays an obsessive detective who doesn’t think straight, first seen ignoring charges that he’s obsessed and doesn’t think straight. One of the crooks he pursues (Strong) shoots him in the leg and heads off for Iceland to reap the benefits of his One Final Score. But just as Strong thinks he’s out he’s pulled back in after his son gets caught up in underworld tomfoolery. A recuperating, painkillered-up McAvoy grows hip to the return of the One Criminal Who Got Away while a ridiculous movie conspiracy is soberly unraveled.
The relatively short pretty boy McAvoy is miscast as a vein-popping hothead who is all-caps DRIVEN in his pursuit of the criminal element. (Remember: his casting in “Wanted” was part of the joke.) But McAvoy, as ever, is a hard worker, and in trying to fit a role for which he’s ill-equipped, he gives the moth-ridden character type a welcome twist. Strong, meanwhile, has done sinister villain duty before, in the first “Sherlock Holmes,” and in “Robin Hood,” and in “Kick Ass,” and in “John Carter.” He’s capable of far more, and he excels as the heart of a movie that still makes him shake down people with guns.
Writer/director Eran Creevy keeps things heavy and humorless; it plays like a more keyed-up version of intense British TV, like “State of Play,” which helped break McAvoy through when he was younger. It’s arguably too heavy and humorless for material so silly and inconsequential, much less for a movie called “Welcome to the Punch,” which no one, regrettably, says (before punching someone, presumably). It does have the capacity to surprise you, as when one intense showdown is funked up by the welcome surprise appearance of delightful Mike Leigh regular Ruth Sheen.