“Get your trousers on, you’re nicked”. So growls Ray Winstone in Nick Love’s reboot of The Sweeney. Pick axe handles and a fistful of f-words go a long way for the Flying Squad as they crack crime and quite a few heads.
Jack Regan (Winstone) heads a team whose ruthless methods are targeted by internal affairs agent Ivan Lewis (Steven Mackintosh). When a series of bank jobs leads to an execution-style murder, Regan and partner George Carter (writer-rapper-director Ben Drew) will take no prisoners. But banging heads is one thing; banging Lewis’ wife is another. So can Regan bring down the crims before his balls are broken by the bureaucrats?
Writer-director Nick Love (The Football Factory, Outlaw) clearly enjoyed the cult series: his pet project was on ice for several years until the funding came good. But is this brash rehash a worthy homage to the John Thaw-Dennis Waterman classic? Yes and no.
The camaraderie and 70s-style macho posturing is aptly nailed. The gung-ho methods – fists, bats and guns – are as hard-hitting as the baddies themselves. And Regan’s affair with a young colleague is pure 70s dreamland. As if. But the Eastender accents and the torrent of effing – this is London, mate, innit? - get a bit wearing.
Today’s London does look great though and The Sweeney updates the original’s grey-and-grainy look with a classy palette for the twenty-first century. But the action’s under-powered and at times unbelievable. An exciting shoot-out across Trafalgar Square, put in for the American market, incites the sudden thought: ‘why are the Flying Squad such crap shots?’
Surprisingly the trump card is Ben Drew . Better known as rapper Plan B (the maestro behind the album The Disappearance of Strickland Banks), Drew is a charismatic presence. Haunting as the vicious thug in Harry Brown and fresh from his directing debut (Ill Manors), he’s cast against type as the good-guy cop, handling his stand-out fight scene and witty asides with equal aplomb.
Damian Lewis, slumming it after the heady heights of Homeland, pops up as Haskins, the squad’s suited boss. But Winstone’s as reliable as ever. His Regan’s a British bulldog of a copper, self-conscious about his paunch but happy to head-butt for England.
Worth a tenner at the cinema? Leave it out. Better off buying the DVD. Sheeny cityscapes and the Trafalgar Square shoot-out apart, this is more TV than cinema. But the Winstone-Drew partnership is engaging and deserves a second outing. With a better script and better action, this Squad could easily fly – especially on the telly.