Film review: THE SWEENEY, from Built For Speed

Adapting a popular TV show to the big screen is always a tricky business. How do you make that transition to a different medium and still maintain the show’s magic?  Do you just reproduce the show in a bigger more spectacular form, do you opt for the Brady Bunch style affectionate pastiche or do you try to reinvent it like Charlie’s Angels.  The adaptation of 1970’s British cop show The Sweeney tries for reinvention but falls flat on its face.

The original TV show The Sweeney starred John Thaw and Dennis Waterman as the amusingly named detectives Regan and Carter who were part of the armed robbery unit aka the Sweeney.  The film still features Regan and Carter – in this case Ray Winstone and Ben Drew – but it’s darker, more violent and has a lot more swearing than the TV show.  The film also swaps the TV show’s charmingly ragged, low-budget look for prestige car commercial slickness and a dark, moody London full of sharp angular surfaces and sleek, shiny computer technology.

Ray Winstone (who appeared in the original show) stars as Jack Regan a grizzled, old-school cop who leads the Sweeney in the field.  In the TV show Regan was a hard-nosed but decent character but in the film, Regan is more violent and dangerous than the crims he’s pinching. He’s a bit like dumbed down version of Vic Mackey from The Shield or Gene Hunt from Life on Mars as he flouts every regulation and disturbingly, even uses torture to get his man.

When a woman is brutally murdered in a jewel heist, Regan goes on a maniacal quest to capture those responsible. His methods, however, see him fall foul of his boss played by Homeland’s Damian Lewis and creepy internal affairs investigator played by Stephen McIntosh.

This film, which is directed by poor man’s Guy Ritchie, Nick love, should satiate the blood lust of those looking for simple-minded action as it features some very violent set pieces which admittedly include an impressive running gun battle through London.  Comically, though, the action scenes show Winstone to be as indestructible as Jason Bourne as no amount of bashings, stabbings, shootings or car accidents can slow him down.

The appeal of the TV show lay not just in the robust action but also in the relationship between Regan and his younger partner Carter played by Dennis Waterman. Unfortunately there’s very little chemistry between Winstone and Ben Drew here. This is partly because Regan works with a larger team and actually spends a lot of time with a female colleague Nancy (Hayley Atwell).  Also, Drew, unlike the amiable Waterman, is not very likeable and plays Carter as an obnoxious little git.  This might be a tough cop drama but we still need to have some sympathy for the main characters.

We also need to be able to understand the dialogue but few outside the greater London area will be able to decipher the cockney argot in this film.

Given that the original TV version of The Sweeney was just an idiosyncratic police drama with two likeable leads we shouldn’t have huge expectations of a film version but we would have hope for more than this this overly slick, unengaging misfire.

Nick’s rating: 2 stars.

Classification: MA

Director(s): Nick Love

Release date: 14th Feb 2012

Running time: 112 mins.

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