Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Mean Machine (2001)

A somewhat ill advised remake of Robert Aldrich's The Longest Yard, 2001's Mean Machine takes the plot (and much of the dialogue) across the pond to our own shores here in the UK, with former footballer turned actor Vinnie Jones as Danny Meehan, an ex-England football international who, after his career goes tits up, finds himself in gaol for a drunken assault on two police officers. Determined to keep his head down and do his time, Danny soon finds this impossible as he is pressurised into assembling and coaching a prisoners' football team by the corrupt governor - played by David Hemmings and his spectacular eyebrows - to play against his team of prison warders.

Being both a prison movie and a sports movie this is quite literally a film of two halves. The prison aspect sees every cliche under the sun thrown at it; wily old lag with pearls of wisdom (David Kelly, virtually reprising the same role he played in Greenfingers around the same time, opposite Danny Dyer and Adam Fogerty who also pop up here) the racist thuggish screws, the naive green prisoner our hero must take under his wing (Dyer) etc etc, whilst the football aspect suffers from the usual inability to translate the beautiful game across to the big screen.

It's very much a film of its time, coming off the back of Lock Stock and the like which revitalised British cinema in the late 90s, and I well remember going to the cinema at the time and enjoying it for what it was, a slightly naff but enjoyable bit of entertainment. Unfortunately it isn't a production that is improving with age and its tin eared script, stilted gor blimey acting, heavy cliches and poor pacing (complete with irritating screenwipe to move us from one scene to the next) is certainly ensuring its reputation as something of a miss-fire. Most disappointing of all is how little the stakes are in terms of the story and that boils down to the film's awkward transition from the US setting to the UK. In the old Burt Reynolds actioneer, you can believe the thuggish, thick armed Deep South violence and feel the threat of the gun toting prison warders, which is totally alien and absent to the UK. Everything's just a bit too safe - there's really not that much to play for.

That said, there's still a fair bit to enjoy here if you look beyond the limitations of its star, Jones who may have proved himself above the usual sports stars before a film camera in Lock Stock but who struggles to carry a film solo. Its the supporting cast who actually make this movie and who show up the lead for the amateur he clearly is whenever they share the screen with him, so step forward the likes of Hemmings, Kelly, Ralph Brown, John Forgeham, Stephen Walters and Jason Statham, because you steal the film. 

The final score; a likeable effort but not one that comes away lifting the trophy. Think Escape To Victory meets Porridge.

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