Mean Machine

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Movie Review by Kris Griffiths

Starring: Vinnie Jones, Jason Statham, Danny Dyer, David Kelly, David Hemmings, Sally Phillips
Director: Barry Skolnick

In the past twenty years there have only really been three noteworthy films based on the beautiful game of soccer: the eighties got the ball rolling with ESCAPE TO VICTORY, the nineties chipped in with WHEN SATURDAY COMES, and the… er …’noughties’ kicked off with MIKE BASSETT: ENGLAND MANAGER. These offerings were, in that order: good, diabolical and mediocre. Hot on the heels of MIKE BASSETT comes another British attempt at a footy flick, this time starring none other than ex-soccer hardman Vinnie Jones. A loose remake of THE LONGEST YARD – a 1974 prison/football yarn starring Burt Reynolds – does MEAN MACHINE score spectacularly, hit the post or miss by a mile?

Vincent was never particularly good at his sport – known better for hacking players to pieces and getting sent off rather than any form of footballing skill. It is thus highly ironic that after a few tough-talking gangster bit-parts, his first leading role sees him cast as England captain Danny ‘Mean Machine’ Meehan (Vinnie’s international career encompassed only a couple of appearances for Wales after somehow worming his way into their squad… he quit football shortly afterwards). After deliberately throwing an important match against Germany, Danny hits the booze and ends up in the clink after drunkenly giving a copper a fist sandwich. The inmates greet the disgraced sportsman with a mixture of respect and derision, but feelings soon change when he is forced into coaching a prison football team for a ‘screws versus cons’ exhibition match. Danny’s task, typically, is to somehow transform a useless bunch of criminals into a quality soccer squad that can overcome the semi-professional prison guards.

After sitting through several new British comedies this year, I’ve noticed something lacking in most of them: laughs. Produced by Guy Ritchie’s Ska Films, MEAN MACHINE probably has more laughs than the lot of them but only just rises above mediocre due to a solid performance from Vinnie and a solid supporting cast incorporating most of his mates from SNATCH and LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS. The movie is blighted in parts by inappropriately placed scenes of ‘drama’ (Danny is put into solitary confinement after trying to save his mate from a savage racist beating), and elsewhere there is some criminally unoriginal comic dialogue (“This is gonna be an exciting second half”… “You can say that again”… “This is gonna be an exciting second half”). Stuff like this shouldn’t happen in a movie that sets out to be a comedy and nothing else.

Most of the humour is of course milked from the training sequences and the big match itself – it’s impossible not to laugh at some of the stupidly violent antics that take place. Jason Statham churns out an amusing performance as a psychotic homicidal goalkeeper called ‘The Monk’ whilst Vinnie seems right at home attacking the opposition more than the opposition’s goal. I guess it was his professional influence that imbued the match with a realism never seen before in soccer on the big screen.

All in all, this testosterone-fuelled comedy will elicit loud beery cheers from tabloid-reading England fans and provide ninety minutes of inane entertainment for everyone else… nothing more, nothing less. ‘Get ready for injury time!’ – the tagline says it all really.

4 out of 6 stars