mean machine directed by Barry Skolnick, written by Charlie Fletcher, Chris Baker and Andrew Day, produced by Matthew Vaughn, with Vinnie Jones, Jason Statham, Vas Blackwood, David Kelly and David Hemmings. 99 minutes. A Matthew Vaughn production. A Paramount Classics release. Opens Friday (March 1). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 70. Rating: NN
mean machine is a british remakeof The Longest Yard, which means it's English, not American, football that serves as the film's sport, and it's Vinnie Jones, not Burt Reynolds, who's the disgraced star leading a team of prison inmates in a match against the guards.The Longest Yard is a classic because it's realistically nasty, very funny and, most important, builds beautifully to a sports climax that still works. It set the standard for "us against them" sports movies and gave Reynolds his final push into stardom.
Mean Machine (the title's taken from the name of the team in The Longest Yard) is a hollow remake, a mere re-enactment with none of its predecessor's heart.
Sports movies usually just string together a bunch of clichés: the team's down, they rally together for the big comeback led by a player whose personal issues cast doubts on his ability to win, blah, blah, blah.
If we're supposed to cheer a spectacular come-from-behind win, we need to care about the players. But Mean Machine's roster of soccer-playing criminals are mostly underdeveloped caricatures. (I do have a soft spot for serial-killer-turned-goalie Jason Statham, whose rushes upfield with the ball are hilarious.)
If your players are undeveloped, you need a strong lead. But Vinnie Jones ain't no Burt Reynolds.
Jones was a notoriously dirty and mean-as-nails player in the English Premier League. When he first announced that he'd hit the screen in Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, Brits mocked his desire to become an actor -- imagine Tie Domi hanging up the skates to work in movies. Jones's performances in Lock, and then in Snatch, have been passable, though, because he's a sour-looking son of a bitch who can stare down a charging bull.
A one-note actor, Jones reads every line with the same quiet menace, whether he's threatening an opposition player or making out with the prison secretary. The scenes where he plays football are great, but watching him struggle with the moral dilemma of whether or not to lead the team to victory is painful. He's a walking brick wall, and brick walls just don't emote.
Giving Jones a movie to carry was asking for trouble.