Several years ago, American cop favorite Starsky & Hutch (from almost exactly the same original broadcast time as our cop drama) was resurrected by Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, creating a funny, tongue-in-cheek adventure that gently poked fun at the original’s gaudy fashion sense, plot contrivances and oversized characters that still evoked fond memories 30-odd years later. Director Nick Love has gone in quite the opposite direction.
If you’re unfamiliar with auteur Love’s work, you may care to familiarize yourself – shooting to infamy with 2004’s brutal football hooligan drama The Football Factory, Love’s canon revolves around the key motifs of foul mouthed South/East London thugs; bone crunching violence in the face of emasculation; and a vast criminal underworld constrained by the M25. It may come as a surprise to discover that Love’s Sweeney is not a gag-riddled puddle of gooey nostalgia, but a harsh, brutal, violent exercise in misanthropy peppered with caustic expletives that seemingly replace grammar.
It’s not my place to “spoil” a film, but if you’re at all averse to most flavours of four lettered invective, then you may find little else to delight here.
So, the Sweeney’s (nee Flying Squad) two main protagonists are Regan and Carter – originally performed by a fusty pre-Morse John Thaw and a wide-eyed pre-Minder Dennis Waterman. Here Regan is essayed by Ray Winstone in full “alpha cockernee” mode and a doe-eyed Ben Drew (known to most as urban performer Plan B). When some Mappits and Caahnts do over a jewelers, some poor Caah gets done in, and it’s up to our heroes to fleck enough spittle in people’s faces until someone can be found to be brought to justice.
It must be said, there is some amusement to be had at Winstone’s truculent delivery, but without a wink or nudge to the audience, it becomes wearing being in the presence of such a profoundly nasty and unpleasant individual.. and really, your tolerance of Winstone is going to define how much of the rest of the film you’re willing to withstand.
There’s plenty of gun-play on screen, some noisy shoot outs amidst the shouting, and a few decent car chases. Tellingly, the cast of Top Gear were tasked with directing the climactic car chase which in some way tells you more about the film than any words ever could. One chase on foot through Trafalgar Square gives a rare opportunity for Londoners to play the “but that geography doesn’t match up in real life” game. So yes, there’s plenty of action, and those gunshots are mighty loud, evidently augmented for full ear-shredding potential.
Look, it’s 2 hours of interminable, plodding malfeasance that will please groups of lads after several beers on a weekend night. And nobody else.
Despite all that negativity though, one positive that cannot be stressed enough is that the cool blue steel template gives Canary Wharf, the East End, and its surrounding areas a beautiful grace and elegance. London hasn’t looked this good onscreen since, well, The Apprentice. . . If this film should happen to have a sequel, there’s one name in particular that springs to mind to play a foul mouthed cockney thug.
The Sweeney opens in cinemas September 12, so you will probably find the DVD for sale in time for Christmas.