A remake of the 1974 Burt Reynold's The Longest Yard (also known as The Mean Machine) is a perfect vehicle for ex-footballer Vinnie Jones, minus Mr Reynolds award winning moustache of course - there are some things that you just cannot remake. It suits his hard-man image and lets him play football (the original featured American Football, but that's irrelevant really). It also the first film to give Jones his chance at being a leading man.
For all those who have never seen the original a plot run down; Danny Meehan (Vinnie Jones) is a former England Football captain, fallen from grace and sent to prison after a drunken assault. Disliked by prisoners and guards alike, Danny is facing a very tough time in jail. However to his advantage, the crooked warden, played by David Hemmings, tries to enlist Danny to coach the guards team. It seems that the Warden has a bad line of credit with a violent bookie, and aims to clear everything with a big bet on a forthcoming match. Danny refuses, but as a way of compromise agrees that the best way to 'help' the guards is if they play a match against a team of cons. The Warden gives the okay and immediately places a huge bet on the outcome of the Guards V Prisoners match.
Now bearing in mind that the guards team is semi-professional, Danny has his work cut out for him and he begins to work his magic on a team consisting of wannabes and no-hopers. The team includes Billy The Limpet (Danny Dyer), The Monk (a psychopathic lunatic, feared by all, including the guards, played by Jason Statham), Massive - the manager (played with relish by Vas Blackwood) and half the cast of Snatch & Lock Stock. By the time the football starts, Danny has been told to lose the match - or be framed for assisting in a murder of a fellow inmate. What will he do? After all he has thrown matches before and could do it again, so where do his loyalties lie, with the team or to himself?
First-time director Barry Skolnick basically decides to forgo any sort of style of his own, instead choosing to just use the Directing-for-idiots-by-Guy-Richie manual. In fairness, it is produced by Guy Richie and does use a lot of his 'regulars', so Skolnick had his work cut out trying to create any of his own style for the film. All the clichés are here, sadistic guards, back-stabbing in-mates offered deals, corrupt warden and so on. The writers thought it would just be easier to use the original as a template almost to the letter, just substituting football for American Football. They do lose a lot of Robert Aldrich's (Director of the original) satire and dumb it down considerably for the audience, but as a 'footie' comedy goes, it's pretty harmless and enjoyable.
Vinnie Jones easily portrays a fallen football star who re-discovers his self-pride and worth behind bars. In fact he breezes through the film with great physical presence and charm. However Jones is definitely typecast and unless he starts to branch out into other genres, he might not survive in the film business beyond thugs and hard-men. Jason Statham thankfully has no stupid accents (see The One) and is great to watch as The Monk, especially during the training sequences. Vas Blackwood is also good as the 'manager' of the team and is the total opposite of the character he played in Lock, Stock. Unfortunately rest of the characters never really rise to anything more than comedy profiles so its difficult to say how good they really are.
With the script writers keeping all the funny bits and adding a couple of their own to the mix, the final product is an romp (can you use that word to describe a prison movie) into the enjoyable world of football and prison. Mean Machine doesn't take itself seriously at all, which is a good thing as the original is some what of a classic. It is well worth a look if you are a football or Guy Richie fan. Whether it will ever reach classic status is highly implausible though.
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