Have you ever had one of those experiences where you were watching two pretty solid performances but you wished they had been brought together in a different film? Undoubtedly you have (I’d guess all of us who’ve watched plenty of movies have had that singular experience). Unfortunately, that’s really all I’d have to say superficially about WELCOME TO THE PUNCH – I’ve been no big fan of James McAvoy, though I’ve always liked Mark Strong’s work, and here the two give a great one-two bang-bang performance of a cop and the felon-on-the-lamb who are forced into some dire straights that require them to unite against a common threat. As unlikely partners, they have some terrific chemistry, and that’s too bad since the story in this thriller stretches the bounds of believability too far for their teamwork to really amount to much.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Three years back, Jacob Sternwood (played with simmering restraint by Mark Strong) escaped with his team from a high stakes robbery only after wounding detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) with a shot in the knee. In present day, Sternwood’s son is involved in a heist that goes horribly wrong, forcing the man to come out of hiding in order to provide aid to the boy. Once Lewinsky realizes this might be his only chance to finally capture the crook and regain his struggling career, he convinces his lieutenant to assign him and his new partner, Sarah Hawks (Andrea Riseborough), to the case.
As often happens with police procedurals with an international setting, things are not quite what they seem. What first appears to be a routine shooting suddenly turns into a criminal conspiracy involving crooked cops and even dirtier politicians. Once the stakes are raised, Lewinsky is forced to accept Sternwood’s begrudging assistance, and, together, they work to unmask the villains at the heart of this slick caper.
Any who’ve followed my reviews know that I’m notoriously easy on films. I only ask two things: (1) that they make sense, and (2) that they keep my interest. For all the spit and polish, WELCOME TO THE PUNCH did the latter, but it kinda/sorta fell apart with the former.
Take the opening sequence. Three years back, Sternwood and Lewinsky had their first confrontation, and writer/director Eran Creevy opens his story in the middle of the high-tech robbery without any explanation whatsoever. (Never a great decision.) On the streets below, four motorcycles are parked out in front of the skyscraper just waiting for the thieves to walk out and hop aboard, and they’re off. McAvoy’s Lewinsky shows up in his car (against orders, I might add), and he pursues. Suddenly, there’s a jump cut, and the four motorcycles are parked in an alley; they’ve completely lost their police pursuer, and they’re waiting to make another breakaway. By an odd twist of circumstances, Lewinsky’s car is useless, and he takes off after the motorcyclists … on foot. Despite their racing away at, easily, thirty miles an hour, he’s somehow manages to get in front of them (???) and knock Sternwood off his bike so’s they can have their first face-to-face.
The short sequence is so rife with errors it’s laughable. Sadly, there are parts of the film that make about as much sense (which is to say that they don’t), and it’s kinda/sorta curious why no one seems to really make use of cell phones in this modern age story. Everyone appears interested in only meeting face-to-face to exchange mostly expository dialogue, and one has to wonder if they’ve all bought into that whole ‘cell phones cause cancer’ theory. Also, Andrea Riseborough’s character sports an accent so thick I practically needed sub-titles to understand half of what she was saying. Maybe that’s me (I’ve been known to struggle with some accents), but, as much as I wanted to like her character and a few others that were sprinkled throughout, that’s hard to do when you’re trying to figure out what they’re saying.
Still, there’s a great partnership at the heart of the flick that’s worth watching. It isn’t as if I didn’t enjoy PUNCH because I did like a lot of it. I only ask that it made greater sense. Perhaps if the director had let someone else take a pass at the script, maybe he would’ve been better served. I firmly believe his audience would have.
WELCOME TO THE PUNCH (2013) is produced by Worldview Entertainment, Between the Eyes, Automatik Entertainment, and Scott Free Productions. DVD distribution is being handled through MPI Media Group. As for the technical specifications? Wow. The film looks and sounds incredible, though there was one sequence shot inside an automobile where one actor’s lines were curiously muffled by something. Lastly, the disc boasts only a handful of special features, including a brief making-of short, some talent interviews, and the theatrical trailer.
RECOMMENDED. WELCOME TO THE PUNCH is certainly slick photographed, fairly well staged, and nicely performed; yet, alas, it’s entirely forgettable. The script by writer/director Eran Creevy tries too hard with too little substance to legitimately rise to the occasion. At the end of it all, there’s this great chemistry between its two leads – McAvoy and Strong – and there’s this great narrative conceit which forces a cop and the criminal he’s been hunting for three years to shackle all of their emotional baggage and work together for all of the right reasons; it’s just too bad so little of it really made that much sense in the story department.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group provided me with a DVD copy of WELCOME TO THE PUNCH by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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