[Screen It]


(2002) (Vinnie Jones, Jason Statham) (R)

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Comedy/Drama: A former soccer star leads his fellow inmates in a soccer match versus the prison guards in this remake of "The Longest Yard."
Danny "Mean Machine" Meehan (VINNIE JONES) is a former soccer star who fell from grace for throwing a game and has now just been sentenced to several years for drunk driving and assaulting two police officers. Incarcerated in a prison that's run by head guard Burton (RALPH BROWN) and his two sadistic guards Ratchett (GEOFF BELL) and Hayter (NICK MOSS) - who all work for the warden known as The Governor (DAVID HEMMINGS) - Danny tries to lay low and do his time.

Yet, his fame and notoriety precede him, especially with his cellmate, Trojan (ROBBIE GEE), who wants nothing to do with him. Fortunately, the prison's veteran con, Doc (DAVID KELLY), shows Danny the ropes and the major power players. There's Sykes (JOHN FORGEHAM), a middle-aged prisoner who unofficially runs the place and has various business relationships with the Governor; Nitro (STEPHEN WALTERS), a deranged and edgy con desperate to get out; and Massive (VAS BLACKWOOD), the prison's supply man.

It's not long before Danny learns that the Governor wants him to coach the guards' soccer team, something Burton is adamantly against. Danny turns him down to save his own hide, but after spending some time in solitary, he takes Massive's advice and proposes that he coach the prisoners in a game versus the guards.

The Governor reluctantly agrees and from that point on, and as various inmates try out for the team, such as meek Billy the Limpet (DANNY DYER), or are specifically recruited for their "skills," such as the Monk (JASON STATHAM), a prisoner not even the guards want to tangle with, Danny tries to assemble a worthy team to take on the guards and get some on-field payback.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
When it comes to remaking former films, there are various guidelines that should be followed. For starters, it's usually not wise to remake pictures that are considered classics or are extremely popular or beloved by many. If one's idea for such a remake passes that initial test and is revisiting a little known or severely flawed film, it should then improve upon the original in one or more ways, bring something novel to the story and/or tell it in a new or interesting way.

Finally, the film must be good - a point that should obviously apply to all efforts, original or not - since there's no real point to pursue such matters otherwise. Okay, there's always the money issue, but I was going for a point about artistic integrity.

The history of stolen cinema is littered with films that took little known previous efforts and turned them into good and occasionally even great remakes, as well as those that flopped and/or tainted the original for any number of reasons.

The latest such effort, "Mean Machine," definitely falls more toward the latter categorization. A remake of the 1974 sports comedy, "The Longest Yard," the film doesn't violate the first guideline and does some make modifications to the story. Yet, it certainly doesn't improve upon the original and ends up coming off as only mildly entertaining, highly predictable and instantly forgettable.

In the original film, Burt Reynolds played a convict who serves as the prison team's quarterback as they play the mean, despicable and dastardly guards under the control of Eddie Albert's warden character. Here, former soccer star turned actor Vinnie Jones ("Swordfish," "Snatch") assumes a similar role, but the British version of football - i.e. Soccer - takes the place of the former film's gridiron activity.

Other than that, the geographic setting and the individual characters, the film is pretty much the same although direct comparisons are difficult for yours truly since it's been decades since I last saw the Robert Aldrich film. Nevertheless, while those who have never experienced the original might think this is a somewhat clever or entertaining concept, most of us who have will find the remake rather pointless. Essentially, that's because it doesn't bring enough of anything new or noteworthy to justify its existence.

Director Barry Skolnick (making his feature film debut after making commercials) - fresh from the Guy Ritchie camp of making ultra-frenetic pictures such as "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch" (those films and this one share the same producer) - tries to add the same visual qualities and snappy editing to the proceedings here. Unfortunately, they don't possess the same pizzazz as occurred in those predecessors and don't add much to the film other than a certain level of annoyingness. In fact, and despite or perhaps because of all of the frenetic shenanigans, the film looks and feels sloppy, and does so from the get-go.

It doesn't help that screenwriters Charlie Fletcher ("Fair Game") and Chris Baker & Andy Day ("Long Time Dead," "Overland") have produced a lame adaptation of the original screenplay (by Tracy Keenan Wynn). Beyond retreading the basic elements of the 1974 film, the script also trots out every trite and tired prison movie convention known to man and obviously filmmakers.

There's the new prisoner who gets grief from the sadistic guards, corrupt warden - who's called the Governor here, a somewhat initially confusing point for American audiences - and even his fellow inmates. Don't fear, however, as there's the old prison veteran who befriends the new con and teaches him the ropes of the place (something the new prisoner would have already known had he watched any previous prison flicks).

The worst point, however, is the overall execution of the entire production. The comedy - despite a plethora of attempts - isn't particularly funny, let alone hilarious, and the drama is laughably bad when not gratingly predictable. The same holds true for the long soccer match that concludes the film and will surprise no one with its outcome.

One could assume that the filmmakers were going for something of a camp approach. That's about as successful as the film manages to get, and it's obvious that most of the effort isn't intended to be taken seriously (after all, just consider the premise of the prisoners vs. guards soccer match). Nevertheless, the film doesn't even go far enough in that direction to make it much fun.

The performances are about on par with the rest of the film. Regarding Jones in the lead, he's okay, but obviously doesn't have the charisma like Reynolds did in the same role back in his heyday, and has a hard time carrying the film. Jason Statham ("The One," "Ghosts of Mars"), on the other hand, gets to have some fun as a psychotic inmate everyone's afraid of (and we occasionally get to see his delusional, on field thinking in what amounts to the film's most entertaining moments).

The rest of the characters are standard prison movie clichés, and the actors who embody them - including the likes of David Kelly ("Waking Ned Devine," "The Matchmaker"), John Forgeham ("Kiss of the Dragon," "The Road to Ithaca"), Ralph Brown ("Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace," "Amistad"), David Hemmings ("Spy Game," "Gladiator") and Vas Blackwood ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," "Babymother") - can't do much to make them pop off the screen like they should.

Like that other recent remake of a 1970s era American sports film, "Rollerball," this one has jettisoned the original's social commentary in favor of just focusing on the game and its players. Had either of them been more compelling, the picture might have been okay. As it stands, however, this is another remake that seems to prove that filmmakers on both sides of the "pond" are running out of creative ideas for new films. "Mean Machine" rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed February 22, 2002 / Posted March 8, 2002

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