You Talking to Me!?!

Poorly directed narrative mess of cop-and-robber thriller makes it damn near impossible to identify who’s talking to anyone

punch You Talking to Me!?!Empty, pointless and stupid, the barrage of gunfire called Welcome to the Punch is another unappealing entry in the overworked British gangster genre. Clumsily written and looking like it was directed on a cellphone, both jobs performed dubiously by Eran Creevy, it makes 100 minutes feel like 100 days at hard labor. When will all of these money-wasting producers in the U.K. (13—count ’em—listed in the credits of this one) learn that some British movies, like French table wines, simply do not travel?

Talented but criminally wasted James McAvoy is woefully miscast as Max Lewinsky, a youthful but ambitious detective on the trail of a gang of motorcycle-riding safecrackers, who is gunned down in the opening scene while foolishly pursuing the amoral masked thieves through dark tunnels in his shirtsleeves without a weapon. Three years later, a drug-addicted mass of scar tissue still hobbling from this near-death experience, he’s called back into action when super-criminal Jacob Sternwood (forcefully played by Mark Strong, the strongest presence in the entire film), the perp who shot him and left him in a pool of blood to die, returns to London from his hideaway in Iceland to rescue his son, who has been arrested and hospitalized in another aborted heist. The rest of this interminable bore is a cat-and-mouse game between Max, dedicated to capturing the man who ruined his life, and Sternwood, an intelligent, skillfully trained career criminal who discovers he has more adversaries than just the one. While the crook seeks ways to get his son out of custody and the cop gets knocked around like a rag doll trying to catch him, the already convoluted film sinks in a mire of wonky subplots in which they both become victims of political chicanery, underworld double crosses and police corruption. Implausibly, they must join forces to survive.

Oddly enough, Mr. McAvoy, who has more screen time, makes no impression, while bald, beady-eyed Mr. Strong (Zero Dark Thirty) steals the show as a particularly menacing villain. Unfortunately, his brutal best buddy is played by Peter Mullan, who mumbles his way through every role with a Scottish brogue thicker than porridge, rendering whole sections of this one incomprehensible. The effect on a crime film’s impact, especially when a gangster is mapping out his strategy and you can’t understand a word he says, is ruinous. With a relatively low $9 million budget, you can’t write off Welcome to the Punch as a major loss, but what good is any movie if the audience is held hostage in confusion?

Director Creevy is obviously heavily influenced by Guy Ritchie and John Woo, but the plot is tangled tripe and the action never rises above the level of an average Hollywood thriller. Worse still, every scene is shot at night in the deserted streets of a London devoid of both cars and pedestrians, neon-lit only by the windows of glass skyscrapers. This is strictly for anesthetized video game buffs who love to watch blazing gunfire and spurting blood. Bring your own translator.

rreed@observer.com

WELCOME TO 
THE PUNCH

Running Time 99 minutes

Written and Directed by Eran Creevy

Starring James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough