The only thing more tiresome than a gritty reboot of a TV series is a gritty reboot of an unfamiliar TV series. Perhaps in the U.K., when Ray Winstone’s gruff police detective makes an entrance punching his fists through drywall to grab a baddie and say, “You’re nicked,” the audience lights up like a Comic Con crowd spying the Bat Signal, but on these shores, the crickets are practically audible.
However, viewers don’t need specific grounding in the 1975-1978 TV series The Sweeney to appreciate the 2012 movie The Sweeney, if the word “appreciate” means recognizing the extremely well-trod ground over which it stomps. Winstone plays the lead detective of London’s Flying Squad, an anti-burglary unit that gets its nickname via Cockney rhyming slang (Flying Squad; Sweeney Todd). He looks the part of the bull in a china shop and plays it as well, taking a baseball bat to baddies (or “villains,” as they’re adorably called) and earning the there-he-goes-again indulgence of his commanding officer (Damian Lewis). “Did you really have to destroy the whole place in the process?” Lewis asks after a particularly messy apprehension. But justice isn’t tidy, right?
Winstone has a relatively soft side, expressed in his romance with fellow officer Hayley Atwell, who’s nearing the end of a loveless marriage to the internal-affairs cop (Steven Mackintosh) who has Winstone in his sights. But as if the plot were compiled from movie-poster taglines, a pair of nasty thieves push Winstone too far, and he becomes A Man With Nothing Left To Lose, Dealing Out Justice On The Wrong Side Of The Law. It’s lovely to see Winstone—a great, gruff presence last seen as one of Snow White And The Huntsman’s burly dwarves—step into the lead for a change, but too bad that the role offers him little beyond tough-guy shtick.
From its lone-wolf mythology to the high, pealing guitar wails in its score, The Sweeney plays like a forgotten ’80s action movie recently discovered in a dusty vault. A treat, perhaps, for those who prefer their cop thrillers pre-meta, but tiresomely plodding for everyone else.