Mean Machine

Mean Machine


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

To remake the Burt Reynolds 1974 footie-in-the-slammer flick, The Longest Yard, has to be a dodgy prospect. First time round, it was meandering and violent.

But this is England and the game is the beautiful one, not that funny rugger they play in the States. Also, the star used to terrorise the opposition at Wimbledon FC in the days when they were in the Premier Division, which means he's better at putting a ball in the back of the net than expressing emotion.

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The film is so predictable, you could lay bets. Lucky Break was stuffed with lovable rogues. Greenfingers had an herbaceous border full of 'em. And now Mean Machine goes through the gamut of hard men with soft centres. What is it about Brit jail movies that brings out the best in bad people?

The other cliche concerns the authorities, otherwise known as Filthy Bill and his parasites. The governor is corrupt and the screws are sadists. They're all here. And guess what? The governor is played by Sixties trendy icon, David Hemmings, who took the pictures in Blow Up, Antonioni's tribute to Swinging London. Unlike Connery and Redford and even his contemporary, Terence Stamp, The Hemm has let it slip. He resembles an habitue of the country club bar, with grey eyebrows flying and a red ruby voice.

Vinnie Jones is Danny Meehan, ex-captain of England, who destroyed his career by accepting a bribe to fix an international game. Now he's locked up for three years for assaulting a copper and driving while drunk and disqualified.

This is not Escape To Victory, but it's close. Meehan coaches a prisoners XI against the governor's team and is put under pressure to throw the match. Will he succumb again, or stand by his men? You are more interested in whether the psychopath (Jason Statham) in goal will kill someone before the final whistle.

David Kelly, the skinny old eejit from Waking Ned, plays an identical role to his canny old rascal in Greenfingers. He must be getting used to prison conditions by now, except he keeps on dying in these movies. Black guys are good guys. The politics of correctness decrees it. Massive (Vas Blackwood) becomes Meehan's right hand and Trojan (Robbie Gee) the closest thing to Emile Heskey.

Since his auspicious start in Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, Jones the Boot went to Hollywood and glowered at the back of Gone In 60 Seconds and Swordfish. As hired muscle, he could have gone on forever. Mean Machine gives him the chance to act. It is difficult to tell whether he is underplaying on purpose. There isn't much happening and when you see him beside a consummate pro, such as Ralph Brown, who plays the devious head warden, the contrast is striking.

If football is a game of two halves, football movies are stuck with actors. This was particularly noticeable in Mike Bassett: England Manager, when noone seemed to have a clue on the park, and in A Shot For Glory, where Ally McCoist made everyone else look crippled. At least Meehan's squad doesn't pretend to know what it's doing, except director Barry Skolnick insists on slow motion whenever someone manages a neat dribble, or the mad axeman pulls off a dramatic save.

The final score? Nil nil. You was robbed.

Reviewed on: 22 Dec 2001
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Vinnie Jones is sent to the nick where he coaches the prisoners soccer XI
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Director: Barry Skolnick

Writer: Charlie Fletcher, Chris Baker, Andy Day

Starring: Vinnie Jones, David Kelly, David Hemmings, Ralph Brown, Jason Statham, Vas Blackwood, Robbie Gee, Danny Dyer, Jason Flemyng

Year: 2001

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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