‘The Sweeney’

The Sweeney's Ray Winstone puts feet up on deskAt the center of Nick Love’s improbable and increasingly illogical British police thriller and all-around shoot-’em-up, “The Sweeney,” lies a role an actor might kill for. Ray Winstone apparently didn’t have to commit homicide to land this role, but he does swagger through this Michael Mann-Lite crime tale as though he did.

His detective character, Jack Regan, heads an apparently sanctioned rogue outfit of coppers within London’s Metropolitan Police, who can take care of violent criminals any way they choose. And they choose not be delicate.

Jack is gruff, overbearing, smugly self-confident and a bit corrupt himself — in short, a role designed for the actor to dominate every scene he’s in even when, on rare occasion, it calls for him to be contrite.

To add to the fantasy, despite a beer belly and face that only a mother could love, every young woman in the film has the hots for him — and he beds the most beautiful one of all.

Sweeney's Ray WInstone and his cops croach behind carSure, that would happen.

Winstone lives it up in the role though. He plays Jack as if he were the culmination of all those London crime flicks he has rolled through for so many years. In a way, it is.

A newcomer to this film might wonder, however, what world he has stepped into with a blazing shootout in Trafalgar Square and then the National Gallery and the quaint male chauvinism and police vigilantism of Dirty Harry.

Well, it is, in fact, the world of British ’70 television. “The Sweeney” is a reboot of a British TV series of that era that starred Jack Thaw as the senior officer of the Flying Squad better known as The Sweeney.

(For in Cockney rhyming slang it’s “Sweeney Todd/Flying Squad.” Get it?)

The movie’s story has something to do with a bank heist, jewelry store robbery, an assassination and Serbian hit men. Beyond that things are not very clear.

For one thing, it’s no joke: This English-language film seriously needs subtitles. At least for an American audience. I would guess nearly 50% of the dialogue is unintelligible due to accents and slang.

The Sweeney's Hayley Atwell glances at Ray Winstone in a liftThe original series, I understand, took place in scruffy pubs and warehouses. The new film — there were a couple of movie spin-offs in the late ’70s — relocates The Sweeney office to a glass-and-steel high-rise in London’s now chic East End where Jack can glance out of any wall to survey the domain he so ruthlessly rules.

Love pumps all this up with kinetic camera movement and physical action that underscore the movie’s sleek shallowness. Its coppers are all anachronisms as are the filmmakers’ attitudes toward their anti-heroes and female characters.

The camera work and set design are never less than appealing and the film moves like a shot. It latches on to Winstone and hangs on for a wild ride including any number of stunts, an extremely tense search of an underground car park and a car chase through a trailer park that is as absurd as it’s fun to watch.

In a way, with a few more quid the story could’ve been set in the ’70s where it properly belongs. As it is, the characters feel out of sorts with the snappy locations and new money of 2013 London.

The gleaming architecture, so much the point of Simon Dennis’ cinematography, doesn’t fit the characters: One might as well send King Arthur and his knights charging through its lobbies and hallways.

Ah well, you still have Winstone to admire along with “Homeland” actor Damian Lewis as squad’s actual boss — he never seems to have anyone’s full attention — rapper Ben Drew as Jack’s streetwise deputy and the beautiful Hayley Atwell as a deputy who would rather shack up with Jack than her own anal-retentive husband.

Like I say, a role to kill for.

Opens: March 1,2013 Theaters, VOD (eOne)
Production companies: Vertigo Films, Embargo Films
Cast: Ray Winstone, Ben Drew, Damian Lewis, Hayley Atwell, Steven Mackintosh, Paul Anderson Alan Ford, Caroline Chikezie, Allen Leech
Director: Nick Love
Screenwriters: Nick Love, John Hodge
Producer: Allan Niblo, Rupert Preston, James Richardson, Christopher Simon, Felix Vossen
Director of photography: Simon Dennis
Production designer:Morgan Kennedy
Music: Lorne Balfe
Costume designer: Andrew Cox
Editor: James Herbert
R rating, 112 minutes.