It was only a matter of time, I suppose, before filmmakers started
to plunder the 1970s for films to remake. At least these contemporary
movie makers are not yet attempting to redo classics (like TAXI DRIVER
or THE LAST PICTURE SHOW), instead making an effort by tackling, of
all things, action films. Hot on the heels of the misfired redo of ROLLERBALL
comes MEAN MACHINE, a British adaptation of the 1974 Burt Reynolds
vehicle THE LONGEST YARD. While that may not be a film that would
top a cineaste's wish list for updating, first-time director Barry Skolnick
and screenwriters Charlie Fletcher, Chris Baker and Andy Day have done
a nice job of tailoring MEAN MACHINE as a star vehicle for Vinnie Jones.
Just as the original played off Reynolds' football prowess, this remake
trades on Jones' career as a soccer player.
The film opens with a funny commercial parody of the James Bond
films with soccer star Danny Meehan (Jones) hawking a brand of footwear.
Despite his fame, there's a cloud over him; Meehan was thought to have
thrown an important match and the resultant career and life down turns
led Meehan to seek solace in drinking and driving his fancy sportscar at
top speeds. While being arrested for speeding and driving under the
influence, Meehan attacks the arresting officers and finds himself
sentenced to prison.
His reputation has preceded him, so that the guards, led by
Burton (Ralph Brown), are less than impressed, and the inmates are
divided between fawning admiration and contempt. The warden (David
Hemmings) had arranged for Meehan to be jailed at his prison in the
hopes that Meehan would coach the guards' soccer team, but having
been warned off accepting the gig by the present coach (Ralph Burton),
the athlete proposes a skirmish between a team of inmates of his
choosing and the guards.
Having debuted in LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS,
Jones had already demonstrated his terrific screen presence. While it
clearly isn't much of stretch for him to play a professional sportsman,
he acquits himself nicely. As the troubled, somewhat porcine warden
(who has a gambling problem), Hemmings is perfectly cast. There's
also nice work from Jason Statham as a psychotic killer drafted into
playing goaltender, Sally Phillips as the warden's secretary, Vas
Blackwood as the inmate team's manager and Danny Dyer as a
puppyish prisoner whose admiration of Meehan knows no bounds.
Jason Flemyng and Jake Abraham are hysterical as Bob and Bob,
offering running commentary on the game. The one seeming misfire
is David Kelly, who appears to be reprising his old codger turn
from GREENFINGERS, another prison-set comedy-drama.
Director Skolnick has clearly studied the oeuvre of Guy Ritchie
(who served as an executive producer) and adopted the same
razzmatazz style that is Ritchie's trademark: a rock 'n' roll soundtrack
with numerous camera tricks including quick edits, slow-motion and
slangy dialogue. It's not a bad choice, but there's a certain pre-fab feel.
MEAN MACHINE doesn't exactly surpass the THE LONGEST YARD but
on its own it manages to score a few points.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some violence
Running time: 99 mins.
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.