by David Cornelius
Lately, I haven’t been as averse to remakes as I usually am. As a result, something about “Mean Machine” just sounded right to me. It’s an update of the 1974 classic “The Longest Yard,” replacing American football with the other kind - known in the States as good ol’ soccer. For the cast, we get the usual badass Brit crew we’ve seen in “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch,” and the like. (Guy Ritchie serves as producer here.)It seemed like a good formula. But there’s something off here, something missing that keeps the film from being as tough as it should be. The film tries too hard to be hip when it doesn’t need to be, and as a result, it never connects as a story.
"Kinda like a zero-zero tie, in movie form."
In place of Burt Reynolds, we get football star-turned-actor Vinnie Jones as Danny, a big name star recently banned from the sport for throwing a game. He’s tossed in prison after a drunken binge; there, he’s quickly placed in charge of the inmates’ football team. This quickly brews an idea: a match between the inmates and the guards.
If you’ve seen “Yard” (and hey, if you haven’t, rent it right now), you know that the climactic football game was played with balls-out revenge by the convicts who had been mistreated by the vicious guards. The sport became an anti-establishment cry; let’s not just stick it to the man, let’s rip the man’s balls off in the process.
But in “Mean Machine” (not to be confused with the “Meat Machine” from “Midnight Madness,” but I digress), the game doesn’t seem like an act of revenge, or even catharsis. The screenplay (by Charlie Fletcher, Chris Baker, and Andrew Day) rushes through its ideas so haphazardly that the game feels like, well, like it’s just a game, played for the hell of it. The let’s-tear-up-the-guards idea feels secondary. As a result, the movie is missing its sole reason for being.
And soccer? Why didn’t the filmmakers use rugby, a much more physical sport where, like American football, damage seems to be a top priority. Sure, soccer can get rough, but the lack of full-contact that American football provides leaves the movie with a lot of running around. When somebody does get slugged, it can’t be passed off as “part of the game,” which allowed for most of the brutal fun in “Yard.”
That said, the movie’s not a total loss. Jones and company prove why they keep popping up as hardasses in these kinds of movies. Jones gives much more to his role than the script requires, and it’s plenty fun to see Jason Statham as a raving psychopath picked to be goalie. Jason Flemyng also shows up, duking it out with Jones in a bare knuckle fighting/drinking game, one of the movie’s few good scenes.
The rest of the picture is wasted on a wide assortment of seen-it-before material. The sports scenes lack the energy to overcome their clichés. The training montages rely too much on slapstick, which gets old far too quickly. David Kelly turns up in the exact same old-wise-man-in-prison role he gave in “Greenfingers;” it’s a decent performance, but it’s far too worn. And when one character gets killed, it’s too fakey a moment. The filmmakers zip through the whole thing like they just want to add some emotional points without really wanting to deal with it. (Goes without saying that all this worked in the original.)So what we’re left with is a tough-ass movie that never gets as tough-ass as it needs to be, nor as involving as it should be. The attempts as comedy rarely succeed, and the attempts at action never entertain. Director Barry Skolnick plows through scenes with little concern for cohesion, wanting instead to get to the big game as quickly as possible. So on its own, it’s not very interesting. As a remake, it’s a pale imitation of a true original.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5770&reviewer=392
originally posted: 06/05/05 12:09:42