Welcome to the Punch is a British crime action thriller and here is why you may wish to see it: it is set in a night-time London so magnificently lit even I wanted to visit, and I live there. And now, ten reasons you can skip it, get on with your life and save 99 minutes, whether those minutes are precious or not. My time isn’t particularly precious, but it may be different for you. Here you are.
1. Although it has a top, top cast (James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough, David Morrissey) it only goes to prove the following old saying: the best cast in the world cannot save a poor script/story, try as they might. The fact I’ve just made up this old saying doesn’t make it any less true, for now or all time.
2. The basic plot: when criminal Jacob Sternwood (Strong) is forced to return to London because his son is involved in a heist gone wrong, a grimly determined detective, Max Lewinsky (McAvoy), sees it as the chance to nab the man who escaped his clutches three years earlier, and shot him in the leg. Max, whose leg sometimes plays up and sometimes doesn’t, depending on how much scenery he has to jump over, is one of those go-it-alone maverick cops as available, off the peg, from the Go It Alone Maverick Cop Shop (Oxford Street, just behind John Lewis).
3. Andrea Riseborough plays fellow cop, Sarah, who is also a Go It Alone Maverick Cop, perhaps because the Go It Alone Maverick Cop Shop sometimes does two-for-one offers. Beyond that, her role is limited, to say the least, and exists solely to serve the boys and all the macho action crap you’ve seen 45 billion times before.
4. A typical line from the script: ‘Bring him down this time, and bring him down hard.’ Another typical line from the script: ‘You disobeyed orders, now pay the price.’ It would not be unreasonable to decide against this film solely on those two typical lines from the script.
5. The action sequences in the film — motorbike chases, car chases, chases on foot — neither enhance nor drive forward the narrative and therefore, as well-directed, assured and slick as they may be, they are never any more than what they are: the chasey bits.
6. Set in the context of a Home Office and police force (as headed by Morrissey) intent on removing guns from London’s streets, the main characters actually manage to make guns look essential. And sexy. If the writer of this (Eran Creevy, who also directed) ever came to tea, I would have to ask him: what part of you could not understand that you can’t deplore gun violence on the one hand while bigging up guns as a brilliant way to maim and kill people on the other? As I don’t hold grudges, I would then offer cake. (Homemade, probably. I have the time.)
7. The basic story spins off into a complex, convoluted tale taking in police corruption and a gun-running operation yet lacks such clarity that, just moments before the end, during a rooftop shoot-out scene, McAvoy is forced to deliver a big chunk of exposition. He’s in a kill or be killed situation, so you’d think he’d have other things on his mind, but there you have it.
8. It’s all a bit of a walk in the park for Mark Strong, whose Sternwood doesn’t actually do very much, and doesn’t add up to much. He is simply one of those bad guys who turns out to have his own warped moral code, as available off the peg from The Bad Guy With The Warped Moral Code Shop, which is also on Oxford Street, but the other end, just past Selfridges, before you get to Marble Arch.
9. Why make famous non-Cockney actors like McAvoy, Riseborough and Morrissey talk all Cockney? Just what is the point? (I would possibly also raise this with Creevy, but after cake, so he’s had a bit of a break.)
10. As a rule, I love James McAvoy with all my heart, but he just isn’t cut out to be a scowling, hardened action hero. Too sweet, too downy, never sufficiently unreconstructed enough. I always want to pet him.
But if you wish to see a beautifully lit London at night-time? Go for it.