**1/2 (out of four)
After countless identical Jason Statham movies, the rugged, ground-level toughness of British actioner “The Sweeney” comes as a breath of fresh, brutal air. “We’re the Sweeney, [bleep]head. You’re nicked,” says veteran detective Jack Regan (Ray Winstone, who was an extra when “The Sweeney” was a ’70s TV show) to a recently captured criminal.
Make no mistake, members of this police unit (fully dubbed “The Sweeney Flying Squad”) don’t play nice. They proudly use baseball bats when necessary, which may be why internal affairs officer Ivan Lewis (Steven Mackintosh) wants to bring down the thuggish operation. Jack has more reason to resent Ivan; Jack’s sleeping with his colleague/Ivan’s wife Nancy (Hayley Atwell of “Captain America: The First Avenger”), and Jack wants Nancy to finally ditch the guy she goes home to for the gruff, manly mound of stubble she sneaks off to shag.
It’s never clear how the Sweeney has gotten away with their ethically questionable practices for so long, and Jack’s investigation of a murder during a jewelry store robbery shows that both the character and the movie have more brawn than brains.
Yet “The Sweeney,” whose name sounds like something out of Barney Stinson’s playbook, has a palpable buzz that comes from the unit’s attitude and the banter between Jack and his partner George (Ben Drew, aka popular British rapper/soul singer Plan B). “What a [bleep],” Jack says of a bank manager after an ultimately pointless tour of a bank that could be robbed. Replies George, “I like him; he’s got panache.”
Questions about police brutality and criminals within the force come up in pretty much every cop movie, and “The Sweeney”—which co-stars Damien Lewis of “Homeland” as the Sweeney’s boss—disappointingly acts as if ends usually justify the means. Clumsy storytelling causes the film to peter out, but by comparison several quotable moments and heart-pounding action scenes in “The Sweeney” make “A Good Day to Die Hard” look even worse than Bruce Willis’ flick made itself look.
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