A social secretary (Lynda Bellingham) is taken to a hotel room, made to record messages on tape and then given a drugs overdose which kills her. The reason? Her death is used to blackmail the government energy secretary Charles Baker (Ian Bannen) into selling off British oil cheaply to the American corporation which may be secretly employing his American press secretary Elliott McQueen (Barry Foster). The death is covered up, but the deceased woman's boyfriend Ronnie Brent (Joe Melia) is not satisfied with the verdict of the coroner, and calls on an old friend in the police - Flying Squad Inspector Jack Regan (John Thaw).
This heavy handed thriller, scripted by Ranald Graham, was the first big screen spin-off from the popular British television series The Sweeney, Sweeney Todd being Cockney rhyming slang for Flying Squad. On TV, the programme had been a sizeable hit, bringing grit, action and belligerence to the traditionally staid UK cop show, and the film makers obviously thought that this would translate to the cinemas, with more brutal violence and extra nudity added for good, sensationalist measure. The result certainly pulls no punches, as Regan and his loyal sidekick George Carter (Dennis Waterman, from the original series) are embroiled with a political plot quite unlike what they're used to, which leaves a trail of bodies in its wake. Where's the car chase, though?
One thing you miss from the series is the "The Sweeney! The Sweeney! Der-neh-neh-ner Der-neh-neh-neh-ner" theme tune (you'd have thought they could have got Waterman to write the theme tune and sing the theme tune, but not in this case). In fact, during that first half hour not a lot happens: Regan and Carter break up a robbery in a massive punch up, Baker is worried at the difficult position he has been put in, and Ronnie won't let go of the idea that his mistress has been murdered. We get a vivid sense of the testosterone-fuelled Flying Squad offices where you can almost smell the Brut aftershave, Regan fires off his two catchphrases - "Shut it!" and "You're nicked!", but the plot meanders.
When Ronnie and his staff are machine-gunned to death at their scrap metal yard, however, Regan becomes suspicious. If the powers behind the plot had simply left Ronnie alone to complain about his theories which nobody else believed, they might have gotten away with it, but now the tough yet fair Regan just won't let go. This results in his car being pulled over by some bent coppers one night, whereupon he's kidnapped, forcefed full of whisky, and put back at the wheel, only for him to crash and get suspended from the force for drunken driving. By this point Regan knows for sure there's some foul play afoot, and tracks down McQueen at his gentlemen's club to find out more. Of course, it's his life in danger as the hitmen arrive.
Unlikely as it sounds, Sweeney! ties in with the cycle of conspiracy movies of the seventies. It's not up there with The Parallax View or All the President's Men, but it does work up a fine mood of aggressive paranoia as Regan is pursued across London. There's one very strong sequence where he teams up with another social secretary on the hitlist and has to flee the killers, his efforts to escape foiled at every turn - the bus stops in the middle of the road, the taxi driver pulls away, the potentially helpful policeman gets murdered. We could have done with more of the camaraderie with Carter from the series - Waterman disappears from the story for long periods - but the dialogue is at a typical level ("Leave it aht, 'e couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery!") and the pace never flags after the uncertain first act. Not as enjoyable as a really top-class episode, but better than you'd expect. Better than the Morecambe and Wise episode, at least. Music by Denis King.