Dir: Nick Love
With: Ray Winstone, Ben Drew, Hayley Atwell
Runtime: 112 minutes
LIKE the song from Gypsy says, you gotta get a gimmick. Ray Winstone seems to be making the sporting of a Pooh bear belly his own when it comes to British crime dramas. Sexy Beast found him rocking the look while slathered in suntan oil; 12 years on, he is back as the world's most unlikely underwear model in The Sweeney, a movie reboot of the ITV series.
As they would say down London way, you've got to larf. Not too much, though, if you are director Nick Love (The Football Factory, Outlaw) and his screenwriting partner John "Trainspotting" Hodge. While they have a few smiles at the Flying Squad's expense, by and large this is a love letter to machismo, to a time when police officers punched first and asked questions later, to an era when paperwork meant filing expenses claims for a night on the lash.
In short, it's nonsense, but it's enjoyable nonsense, and it has to be seen if only to glimpse the magnificence of Winstone's belly floating serenely across the screen like the iceberg from the Titanic.
Love and Hodge are not interested in time travelling back to the Seventies, the era in which the original police procedural was set. Not for them some Brit version of Starsky and Hutch complete with smarty pants irony. Their Sweeney is very much of the moment, and not an opportunity is lost to remind audiences of the fact.
The squad's gaff, for example, is not some dingy office with nicotine-washed walls and manual typewriters. The new Regan and Carter toil in what looks like an architects' office, all wide open spaces, floor to ceiling windows, shiny aluminium desks and the occasional tasteful pot plant. Tech-wise, the place is like an Apple store. There are even, wait for it, women detectives in the squad.
Still, you can take crime fighting cavemen out of the cave, etc. Like their predecessors, this year's Regan and Carter (played by Ray Winstone and Ben Drew, aka the rapper Plan B) think the best thing to do with a rule book is to chuck it, hard, at a suspect's head.
They are in the mood to do just that when faced with the latest outrage on their patch – a particularly nasty robbery. As the team piece the crime together they find themselves tangling with some old faces from the past.
If the enemy without is hard to find, the enemy within is only too obvious. The squad has been a tad too lairy for the suits upstairs, so it is under investigation by internal inspectors led by Ivan Lewis (Steven Mackintosh, doing his usual nice line in gits). The squad's chief, Frank Haskins (Damian Lewis, given not a lot to do but shout variations of "Leave it out, Jack") tells Regan to watch his step. But Regan is determined to do what he has always done. He, they, are The Sweeney, naysayers are told. They do what other coppers can only dream of. No one asks, alas, if this includes seeing their toes.
Love is determined to keep the action and adrenaline pumping, starting off with a raid on a warehouse. While he doesn't quite resort to driving cars through some conveniently-placed cardboard boxes, the limitations of the budget are apparent in these early scenes. Later on, though, he leans heavily on his imagination, and many a nod to Michael Mann's Heat, to stage an outdoor scene in central London that tears along at a terrific lick.
The plot skitters hither and yon like a barrel of monkeys rolling down the street. Not a lot of it makes sense, but the basics are there: Regan and Carter are after wrong 'uns, and they'll do what it takes to get them, even if that means stretching credibility.
Demented storyline aside, Love has struck gold in the diamond geezers of Winstone and Drew. No- one else could fill the leather jacket of Regan with more conviction than Winstone, and few can curse as elegantly. Drew, as in Adulthood and Harry Brown, continues to be an immensely watchable actor, exuding menace and cool in much the same way Winstone did when he was younger.
Winstone is still the guv'nor, though, when it comes to growling and scowling. Here, just to show he is up with the age and down with the kids, he has been given a pair of trendy specs and a beautiful young girlfriend, fellow police officer Nancy (Hayley Atwell). The specs are easier on the eye than the love scenes.
Love takes far longer than is necessary to wrap up the story, but by then Winstone and Drew have done their bit and more in giving the audience characters to care about. The new Sweeney, like the old Sweeney, might be the stuff of human rights lawyers' nightmares, but they're really still sweeties at heart. A sequel looks inevitable.