Movie Review: “Welcome to the Punch”


2starsTake away the British actors, accents and settings and “Welcome to the Punch” would still be a perfectly serviceable if utterly generic cop thriller.
A tale of corruption, gun play and murder, it takes a few unpredictable turns before reaching at a conclusion we can see coming miles before its arrival.
James McAvoy is Max, a headstrong cop chasing after a master criminal who has just pulled off a slick robbery in the film’s opening moments. Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) may get away, but not before Max has risked life and limb to stop him.
“You’re obsessed,” his dispatcher shouts on the radio. “You’re not thinking straight.”
That’s how Max gets shot. Three years later, he’s still draining fluid out of his bad knee, still testy at any suggestion by his partner, Sarah (Andrea Riseborough) that his short fuse and fanaticism are going to end badly.
“Catching Sternwood is not going to change the past.”
“It HAS to!”
The cops catch a break when the crook’s crooked son (Elyes Gabel) is shot and makes a weepy call to Dad in his Icelandic hideout. The hoodlum will move heaven and Earth, and shoot anybody who gets in his way, to get to his son.
Max, we learn, is obsessed with “being a nobody,” while a robbing/shooting/kidnapping thug like Sternwood is “a legend.” His department chief (David Morrissey) is running for higher office on a platform that cops need guns as exotic as the criminal classes. A wave of shootings sweeping the nation seems to back him up. This case, this Sternwood, would be a coup to catch just before election day.
“Welcome to the Punch” can be appreciated for some new twists on an old formula. The crooks want to get word on “the street” to set a trap, and consult with a barber who moonlights as an underworld social media “viral” info expert. As Max follows the clues and confers with Sarah, Sternwood relies on an old comrade (the great, grizzled Peter Mullan) and follows those same clues.
Yes, they’re both trying to figure out who shot Sternwood’s kid, and what that connects to.
The action beats are by-the-book, the shootouts are straight out of a Bruce Willis movie — high caliber AK-47s and other machine guns mow down bit players, but only wound those with speaking parts.
McAvoy is overwrought much of the time, bellowing in pain at the bad knee, a real contrast to his less convincing turn as a tortured art dealer in the upcoming “Trance.” Strong is stone-cold stoic,  Morrissey spitting with vehemence and Riseborough steady in a role that requires her to do nothing but look like she’s thinking this thing through as she writes notes on her hand.
Like the recently-imported “The Sweeney,” the novelty here is in the Britishness of it all. That’s not really enough to make this one stand out.
And the diminutive McAvoy, trying his hand at all manner of action, may be hoping to become the Scottish Tom Cruise. But “Welcome to the Punch” shows he’s still more of a Scottish Michael J. Fox, an actor better served by roles with more charm and less grimacing than this one.

MPAA Ratings: unrated, with lots of gun violence and blood and guts
Cast: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough, David Morrissey
Credits: Written and directed by Eran Creavy. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:38

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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6 Responses to Movie Review: “Welcome to the Punch”

  1. Blue says:

    This must be the most ridiculous review I’ve ever read. Stupid to say the least. “Diminutive”? You are talking about a man who’s 1:70, average height. Maybe you live in Giantland, where all people are 2:20 or taller.
    And you consider yourself a “top critic”. Ha. Maybe in your dreams. I’ve never seen any serious critic belittling an actor/actress because of stature or weight. Keep trying, maybe one day you’ll grow up and the serious critics will let you join the club.

  2. antospes says:

    Mr. McAvoy does what he can with the script he has. He is playing a very “grimacing” Macbeth right now and he is absolutely brilliant. Is it wise to judge an actor from a bad script?

  3. TXAllie225 says:

    Whether YOU think he’s good in “Trance,” or not…well, you certainly have a right to your own opinion. Others think differently. To each his own. BUT, to make the kind of comments you’ve made, judging him on his height is ridiculous. As another commenter pointed out, he’s playing brilliantly in MacBeth and no one is complaining about his height! It seems more that you don’t like him as an actor and it’s tainted your ability to give a real review, instead of a personal attack on something McAvoy has absolutely no control over. He’s a brilliant actor who is noted as brilliant by those who matter…other actors and directors, such as Danny Boyle. Your review, being so personal, only makes it irrelevant and unimportant. In other words, you’ve made yourself look about 2 inches tall. Nice.

    • It wouldn’t be fair game if he wasn’t choosing films that seem to ask us to ignore the simple physics of it all. Tom Cruise doesn’t. And when they cast him as Jack Reacher, they cast around him so as not to call attention to the improbality of his throw weight vs. those he was supposed to be besting. Shia LaBeouf finds ways around it. Sorry if this seems too “personal,” but seriously. It’s comical how Gerry Butler and McAvoy are the only actors whose fans will not brook any criticism. CEltic Immunity from Criticism?
      He’s the weakest link in “Trance.” Go see for yourself.

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