Mean Machine

There is a big reason why Mean Machine resembles the cult classic 1974 film The Longest Yard; it is based on the original play. This time, the action takes place in England, and soccer replaces football (or, the real football replaces football). In fact, the story essentially mirrors most sports movies, with a group of underdogs going up against a clearly stronger and more able team, with the outcome determined in one big game that goes down to the last minute. Mean Machine does manage to rise above the fray for its duration, because of an amusing script and a decent soccer match, but this is still forgettable stuff. The one notable thing about this movie is that it seemingly stole a significant amount of the cast from the recent Greenfingers, which also took place in a prison (hey, economies of scale work).

Events are set in motion when Danny "Mean Machine" Meehan (Vinnie Jones, Swordfish, Snatch) arrives in jail. He is a disgraced soccer player, who was famous until he threw a game. Now, he is in jail for the drunken assault of some officers. The Prison Governor (David Hemmings, Last Orders, Spy Game) wants him to coach the prison guard team, but the coach of the team threatens Meehan. Instead, Meehan asks the Governor if he can form a team of inmates to play against the guards. The inmates stink, and its up to Meehan to whip them into shape. A match against the guards is good will let them unite and find something akin to hope.

For the most part, each character falls into a specific character necessary for this kind of story. There is the older, gentle, advice giver (David Kelly, Greenfingers, Ordinary Decent Criminal), the snitch, the authoritarian guard, the incompetent player, and the complete psycho (Jason Statham, The One, Snatch). Jones, Kelly, and Statham are the only people with a hint of personality; they are the ones with the most screen time. Statham in particular is amusingly effective as Monk. Monk wants to play only to have the opportunity to assault guards, and everybody is too afraid of him to tell him to stop when he leaves the goal box. Jones is an ex-professional player, so he has credibility as Meehan.

Still, it's the utter predictability in the script by Charlie Fletcher (Fair Game) and Chris Baker and Andrew Day (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels). Many of the people behind the scenes on this film worked with Guy Ritchie, and his frenetic directing style shows. Director Barry Skolnick is doing his best Ritchie impression with the constant soundtrack, and hyperactive camera that at least slows down as the film moves on. Most of the things leading up to the game are not that interesting. Subplots involving crime bosses in prison and the gambling habits of Hemmings' character never generate anything more than bored sighs. The game at the end is when Mean Machine picks up. Otherwise, watch this movie, chuckle, then forget about it (purposely or not).

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 38 minutes, Rated R for language and some violence.

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