Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Nick Love's THE SWEENEY opens, giving us a new gang that couldn't shoot straight....

The movie begins well; give it that. THE SWEENEY -- starring everyone's favorite, fat British bad boy, Ray Winstone (whatever else you do, check out his underseen-but-terrific 44 Inch Chest) and a good rest-of-the-cast -- manages about half an hour of fast fun before degenerating into standard, stupid stuff. Which is too bad, given that cast and the subject matter at hand: the tribulations of a division of London's police department that seems to exist somewhat above-the-law.

Co-written (with John Hodge, who often collaborates with Danny Boyle) and directed by Nick Love (shown at left), the movie begins with a good, slightly violent action set piece that gives way to the setting up of various relationships involving love, lust, power and the like. With dialog that's short 'n sharp -- "He's a bit of a cunt," notes one fellow; "I like him," counters another. "He's got panache" -- the plot moves to the robbery of a jewelry store in which a bystander is, it would seem, pointlessly and ruthlessly murdered.

Then we're in for the robbery of a bank just off Trafalger Square, at which point the movie completely dissolves into the ridiculous. This "Sweeney" unit, which has always managed to get its job done without undue incident or damage to civilians, is suddenly shooting it out on the street with the bad guys, as bystanders all around run for cover. Worse, none of these people -- good guys nor bad -- knows how to shoot. They make The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight look like prize-winning marksmen. (I'm not saying that every bullet must hit its target, but, really, a couple of 'em should.)

Truly, the above is one of the worst action sequences I can remember, and the movie never recovers from it (though, in time for the finale, of course, some of our guys do learn to shoot so that other of our guys can end up dead). Even worse, our "hero," Jack (played by Winstone) is mostly an asshole, whose behavior is so dumb and Neanderthalian that it grows impossible to care what happens to him -- or anyone else. Mr. Winstone is a fine actor, but, screenwriters, please: the guy needs something to work with.

Filled with shoot-outs, car chases, killings and nasty Eastern Europeans (as always, of late, the villains du jour), and all, finally, as boring as they sound, the film grows noisier and more nonsensical, making use -- badly -- of every last-minute cliche in the book. Given some of the shots we see at the beginning and end of the movie, it begins to look like we're watching product-placement for the world's biggest, baddest banks. Who knows? They probably helped finance the film.

Lost in this dismal cause are generally fine actors like Hayley Atwell (above: playing hard n' sexy), Steven Mackintosh (below, left: cold n' creepy) and Damian Lewis (wasted here as Winstone's boss). The last line on my page of scribbled screening notes asks, in a nod, I guess, to the Bard, "What fresh crap is this?" Unfortunately, it's not even that fresh.

The Sweeney, from eOne and running 112 long minutes, gets a brief theatrical play here in New York City at the AMC Empire 25, beginning this Friday, March 1, while making its simultaneous VOD debut, too.

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