And yet, ever since they disbanded their empire and started exporting pre-fab pop groups, they seem to have acquired a bit of an inferiority complex. Suddenly, it's not good enough to be living in the land that once held 25 percent of the world's population in its limp, Nancy-boy grip. No, now they've actually gone and remade a Burt Reynolds movie.
I know, shocking, right? What could be more American, and less British, than a Burt Reynolds movie? It's like going over to Lady Plushbottom's for high tea and finding out that she's serving Gatorade and Cheetos--and I'm talking crunchy Cheetos!
And yet, somehow, those lovable limeys have pulled it off, and made a damn decent go of capturing the spirit of The Longest Yard, which, while not exactly high art, was just the thing to have on in the background while snogging at the drive-in.
The plot of both films is pretty much exactly the same: A former pro-footballer, who was drummed out of the league for point-shaving, winds up in prison, where he organizes a team of inmates to play against a team of guards.
But wait! There's some sticky wicket afoot, because in jolly old England, "football" is apparently how those crazy cockneys pronounce "soccer." Yes, soccer, the only game in which a team can post a win with a score of zero to zero.
So you must be thinking, "there goes all the excitement, and the field goal kicking." But no! It turns out that, when edited down to fifteen minutes, a 90-minute soccer game is actually kind of exciting. And they actually kick a ball across a field into a goal, so, you know, close enough.
Vinnie Jones, an actual former soccer star, plays the Burt Reynolds part, here named Danny Meehan, a much more Anglo-sounding name than the original movie's Paul Crewe. The film begins with Danny knocking back a few pints before heading out on the motorway for a bit of a drive. This draws the attention of the bobbies, and Danny is arrested for having had more Guinnesses than were good for him. Luckily, instead of sending him to jail, they send him to gaol, which is like jail, except that it's easier to get tatties and neeps there.
Once inside, he finds that he's a bit of a pariah, because he sold out the English soccer team in a game against England's long-time rival, the Germans, thus allowing Germany to beat the English at their national sport. Of course, on two occasions in the last hundred years England has beaten Germany at its national sport, so really what's the big deal? But still, there's a patriotism thing at play here, and the prisoners decide that Danny's behavior (or, as they say "behaviour,") was rather un-English. I mean, rah-ther un-English.
However, Danny has to make some friends when the corrupt governor of the prison, whom, strangely, no one calls "guv'nor," demands that Danny field a team of prisoners in an exhibition game against the guards. It's actually lucky that this happens, because otherwise the plot of the movie would have revolved around trading fags for shags, and I think we'd all prefer to watch a little football, if by "football" we mean "soccer."
Anyway, like Longest Yard, Mean Machine is a comedy that relies on some rather gritty drama to keep it moving. Its funny parts are actually funnier than the funny parts in Longest Yard, and its gritty parts are grittier. On the whole, Mean Machine is one of the better "lad movies" to come out of the land of les rosbifs in the last few years.
A lot of the credit goes to star Vinnie Jones. He's charismatic and grim, and first-time director Barry Skolnick knows better than to give him any jokes, relying instead on his imposing presence to center the large supporting cast. The cinematography is dark and prison-like, and the football sequences are fast-paced and exciting. Sure, it lacks the kind of trashy, Southern-boy charm that only Burt Reynolds or the current and former presidents of the United States can bring to a party, but it more than makes up for it by being a British movie that has nothing to do with coal miners, drunken fathers, or growing up poor and dirty in Liverpool.
In sum, if you're the kind who likes a good sports film, and you don't mind if the players say "bloody" instead of "fucking," then head out to the cinny and check out Mean Machine--it's the dog's bollocks!