Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Barry Skolnick
Stars: Vinnie Jones, David Hemmings, Jason Flemyng, Ralph Brown
With the recent welter of disappointing and largely unnecessary remakes that have added little to the original (Planet Of The Apes, Get Carter, and even The Time Machine) it is refreshing to come across a remake that actually stands on its own merits as an entertaining film. Produced by the same team responsible for both Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, the tough, if somewhat derivative, films that reinvented the British gangster film, Mean Machine is a nifty remake of the 1974 Burt Reynolds film The Longest Yard.
That film, about an ex-footballer blackmailed into coaching a football match between the inmates and guards in a penitentiary, was directed by Robert Aldrich, best known for his tough, virile action films, and climaxed with a rather gruelling and physically punishing grudge match. To put the requisite oomph into this version, the producers and first time director Barry Skolnick, a protege of Ridley Scott, are forced to turn the noble game of soccer into a contact sport, of sorts.
Real life former soccer star Vinnie Jones, who has earned a decent living playing tough guys on screen, is in his element here as Danny Meehan, a former football star whose career was ruined after his involvement in a match fixing scandal. After he is arrested for drunk driving and assaulting a police officer, Meehan is sent to Longmarsh, a top security prison. The corrupt governor (David Hemmings, from the ’60’s classic Blow Up and Gladiator, etc) has pulled some strings to get Meehan sent to his prison as he is keen to draw upon his experience to train the guard’s team. He also hopes to make a fortune and get himself out of some serious debt, as he owes a small fortune to a nasty bookie (Jason Flemyng). But the brutal head warden Mr Burton (Ralph Brown) has other ideas and convinces Meehan to turn down the offer.
Eventually, Danny manages to talk the governor and the guards into allowing a practice match between the cons and the guards. It is a gruelling affair as the prisoners use the opportunity to exact some revenge for their ill-treatment, while the guards are fighting for respect and control.
For some of its length, Mean Machine sets itself up to be another tough look at life inside prison, with the power struggles, fights and officially sanctioned brutality, and the usual cliches abound. But once the film moves onto the actual soccer game itself it lifts a notch, and some of the brutal on field violence is actually quite entertaining, and hilarious. A couple of overly enthusiastic commentators bring some earthy humour to proceedings.
Jones has a convincing physical presence here and he is well suited to the action scenes. He is less convincing when trying to portray Meehan’s internal battle with his conscience when pressure is placed on him to throw this important game. And is the amusing, pre-title opening sequence Jones’ cheeky audition to assume 007’s licence to kill when Pierce Brosnan eventually gives up the role?