Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Mean Machine

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

MEAN MACHINE

6/10

UK 2001
director : Barry Skolnick
script : Charlie Fletcher, Chris Baker, Andy Day
(based on film The Longest Yard from a story by Al Ruddy)
producers include : Matthew Vaughn, Guy Ritchie
lead actors : Vinnie Jones, David Hemmings, Jason Statham, Vas Blackwood
technical personnel to follow
approx 95 minutes

If that Harry Potters supposed to be so magical, how come his team Motherwell are doing so crap in the SPL? OK, the scene where Potter and his wizardy pals kick off on the Fir Park terraces must have been removed by the squeamish censors, and, if were being nitpicky about it, the Steelmen are never mentioned by name in Harry Potter and the Philosophy of Steve Stone. But there’s no mistaking those amber-n-claret scarves Edinburgh lass J K Rowling is supposed to such be a stickler for detail, and the Quidditch game, in which goals can only be scored by supernatural means, is clearly a dig at manager Alex Dicks current problems up-front…

But while Harrys bizarre allegiance clearly hasnt harmed his box-office performance, the young wand-botherer will have his work cut out fending off his most fearsome opponent: not Voldemort, not Lord of the Rings, but… Vinnie Jones, leading man! Yes, after Lock Stock, Snatch, Gone in 60 Seconds and Swordfish, Jones must be fed up of playing second banana behind Cage, Pitt and Travolta – or should that be tenth banana with hardly any lines? Mean Machine, co-produced by his old china Guy Ritchie, provides him with his first starring role as Danny Mean Machine Meehan, a washed-up ex-footballer with violent tendencies. Not exactly a stretch for the hardman thesp… but a stretch is exactly what Vinny sorry, Danny gets after a drunkenly assaulting a cop. Hes sentenced to three years porridge in a jail where the Governor (Hemmings) just happens to be desperate for his guards team to win their local league…

ALS caught a special sneak-preview of the picture when it was shown to specially selected VIPs in Soho last month. The ropey early scenes lazily tick off every prison-movie cliche in the book: the posh, sarky governor, the nasty screws, the meal-time riot, the sympathetic-but-doomed inmate… But this really is, thankfully, a film of two halves: when a friendly match between Cons and Guards is set up by the conniving governor, Mean Machine suddenly switches gear and becomes a raucously enjoyable crazy-comic version of Escape To Victory.

Theres a serious sub-plot about how Danny needs to regain his self-respect he was sacked from the England captaincy (dream on, Vincent) when it emerged that he’d thrown a vital match but director Barry Skolnick wisely concentrates on milking maximum thick-ear laughs out of the training and the game itself, in which inmate goalie The Monk (Lock/Snatch veteran Statham) come into his own like an unholy mix of Hannibal Lecter and Fabien Barthez. Choppy editing prevents us from seeing whether any of these actors can actually play footy, but its nicely synchronised to music that includes liberal helpings of our very own Dance of the Knights by Prokofiev.

While Vinnie neednt bother rehearsing his Oscar acceptance speech (Thank you academy, its been emotional…) quite yet, its hard to imagine any proper name actor being quite so convincing as the no-nonsense Danny. He even gets away with a shameless Steve McQueen tribute when he’s banged up in solitary and starts bouncing a tennis ball off the walls. With its menacing Get ready for injury time poster, Mean Machine is clearly never going to appeal to the Merchant Ivory set, nor anyone with fond memories of the Burt Reynolds original from 1974. But the target audience will lap it up, preferably after the pub with the accompaniment of a chicken kebab. Add the on-pitch action to a bloodspattered boxing sequence and a hilariously gratuitous sex scene, and you have perfect Christmas fayre at least for lads who rejected the three Rs in favour of the three Fs.

26th November, 2001
(seen Nov-2-01, Mr Youngs Screening Room, London unfinished print)

by Neil Young