Welcome to the Punch (**½)

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welcome_to_the_punchThese days, it’s getting to be pretty hard to find an action/crime flick that doesn’t feel like a rehash of something that’s come before it. It’s almost a rule now that films like to just copy what’s already worked as opposed to blazing their own trail. ‘Welcome to the Punch’ isn’t an exception to that rule, but it does at least have a welcome sense of visual style working in its favor. The movie substitutes flair for originality, and while that doesn’t make for a completely satisfying experience, it does make for a better one than it otherwise might have been. Writer/director Eran Creevy (which for some reason sounds like the name of someone who should be making horror films) has a glossy way that he captures the tale, which shows off a number of genre influences. Creevy’s visuals were my favorite part of this film, which happens to boast a very solid cast, consisting of James McAvoy and Mark Strong in the leads. It all felt a little too unoriginal to me, but overall I did find it well above average. I’m not overtly recommending it, but I certainly wouldn’t stop anyone who has a predilection for this type of material. It’s just nothing that we haven’t seen before in bigger flicks. Bigger isn’t usually better, but here it’s a bit more complicated than that…

The story here centers on the age old cinematic gimmick of having enemies forced to work together due to circumstance. Criminal Jacob Sternwood (Strong) used to be an expert thief and overall evildoer, but after barely escaping the clutches of Detective Max Lewinsky (McAvoy) during a robbery, he’s left London and given up the life. Sternwood isn’t haunted at all by that encounter, but Lewinsky sure is. Left hobbled by the wound Sternwood caused, Lewinsky is obsessed with catching the criminal. He would have had his chance when Sternwood’s son Ruan (Elyes Gabel) gets caught up in a botched heist and needs help. The elder Sternwood returns, and Lewinsky is ready. Things seem amiss though as he investigates along with his partner Sarah Hawks (Andrea Riseborough), leading the Detectives to dig a little deeper. What they find consists of the usual sort of corruption films of this ilk feature, ultimately leading Lewinsky to form an uneasy alliance with Sternwood if either hopes to make it out alive. It’s nothing special, but in the moment it’s pretty close to a satisfying experience.

punch movieA real solid cast has been put in place here, and they do good jobs overall, if not outstanding ones in any sense. James McAvoy overcomes being oddly cast as a brooding cop to craft a decent enough performance, while Mark Strong gets to mildly impress while doing something a little bit different than usual, considering how often he’s just a straight up villain. They’re both very watchable, and if neither would have been my first casting choices, they each manage to pull off the roles in a way that never hurts the film. Sadly, Andrea Riseborough is completely wasted, while Elyes Gabel doesn’t register at all. I still think that Riseborough is about to break out, but a thankless role like this one isn’t going to do it for her. The likes of Jason Flemying, David Morrissey, and Peter Mullan deliver capable supporting turns, while the cast is filled out with Johnny Harris, Daniel Mays, Jason Maza, Ruth Sheen, and others. We’re mainly concerned with McAvoy and Strong though, and they manage not to let you down.

Eran Creevy managed to contribute to both my favorite and least favorite aspect of the movie. Creevy’s directorial choices get a real thumbs up from me, but his writing doesn’t quite pass muster. He’s got skill on both ends, but he really only shows it from the director’s chair. Visually, Creevy takes some cues from both American Hollywood films of this ilk, alongside Asian ones as well. The result is an interesting hybrid look that I found a little on the fun side, even if it didn’t especially add anything to the depth of the film. As for the story, it’s very basic and just too derivative for my tastes. It’s hardly bad, but Creevy’s screenplay is the weakest aspect of the movie and keeps me from giving a thumbs up.

Those of you who dig on English crime dramas or action flicks with that flavor will likely be satisfied with what ‘Welcome to the Punch’ has to offer, but that’s about it. I wanted more original material, and the lack of it is what’s keeping me from recommending the movie to everyone. It’s definitely an above average bit of cinema, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. If you’re a big James McAvoy fan, that might put you over the edge as well, but all in all I don’t expect this to catch on in any real way. It’ll likely be discovered more on DVD, if at all. I do want to see more from Eran Creevy going forward, but maybe he should let someone else do the scripting duties. He makes a watchable film, but I’m hoping for a really great one from him at some point…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!