15 | *
Nick Love’s adaptation of classic 70s cop series The Sweeney opens with an aerial shot of the London skyline. These aerial shots recur throughout, and combined with the frequent mobile phone conversations and scenes inside cars, the whole thing is a bit like an episode of the apprentice, only with less likeable characters.
The unpleasantness of the characters is a problem The Sweeney never manages to overcome. The audience is supposed to side with the rough around the edges Sweeney (Sweeney Todd = flying squad), who want to catch (and beat up) criminals unimpeded by the desk-bound bureaucrats at internal affairs.
But flying squad boss Regan (Ray Winston) spends too much time beating confessions out of suspects, throttling his colleagues, sleeping with their wives and casting aspersions over the size of their testicles to be sympathetic. He is too much of a bully to be trusted as a rogue – but ultimately good – law enforcer who should just be allowed to do his job. You know you’ve got The Sweeney wrong when Regan serves as a good advert for police regulation.
This was always going to be an issue with Nick Love (The Football Factory, The Firm, The Business) at the helm. The moral currency of Love’s films consists of macho values like respect, honour and ball-size. This is just about palatable in the world of gangsters and football hooligans. But John Thaw’s 70s Regan wasn’t interested in comparative assessments of his and his adversaries’ bollocks. He just wanted to put away the bad guys.
Style is as lacking as substance. The much-hyped Trafalgar Square gunfight is unspectacular, and the action sequences are surprisingly few and far between.
This wouldn’t matter so much if the dialogue weren’t so terrible. A low point is reached when fearsomely named villain Francis Allen (played by Paul Anderson) warns Regan, “the ramifications of your actions are going to have some severe repercussions”. There’s another low when Regan, in a breathlessly romantic post-coital moment, whispers to his disconcertingly young lover, “you make me feel… hungry”.
For a film about bringing people to justice, its makers display precious little insight at all into what constitutes right or wrong, or what audiences ar likely to sympathize with. The whole thing is muddied by wholly inadvertent moral ambiguity. The goodies are bad and the baddies are bad actors. Stay away.