mean machine (2002)

director: barry skolnick

vinnie jones, david hemmings, jason statham, david kelly, vas blackwood

The British movie obsession with its criminal underclass improbably continues, and director Barry Skolnick’s re-make of a Burt Reynolds prison football flick either proves that there’s something deeper here than just reverse class envy, or that material is getting thin, and that we can expect a stylish cockney thug version of Convoy within the year.

Vinnie Jones stars as a discraced soccer star who ends up in one of Britain’s nightmare Victorian-era prisons, in amongst a colourful crew of socio- and psychopaths. Jones, like fellow cast members Jason Statham, Vas Blackwood and Jason Flemyng, is an alumnus of Guy Ritchie’s wildly influential films, Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

The sense of deja vu is only compounded by the non-stop slang and near-poetic obscenity, an obsession with the fine points of British male consumer culture, and a battery of quick edits, wipe cuts, and montage scenes set to an arch, sarcastic soundtrack that’s almost a character of its own.

The plot is simple enough -- Jones is forced to coach a prison soccer team to take on the guards -- and the execution is a near-perfect copy of Burt Reynolds’ The Longest Yard. (The original screenwriter of the 1971 film is credited.) Jones must confront his own disgrace, and a glimmer of laddish solidarity is found with the guards -- no surprises here.

Perhaps the film’s greatest feat is making the climactic game seem fast-paced and urgent. As anyone -- even the biggest fan -- will admit, the average soccer match can seem as drawn-out and leisurely as billiards, and from the terrace, that’s precisely what the colourful players on the vast green field can resemble. Skolnick, a commercial director, utilizes every trick in his bag to speed things along, and this bit of virtuosity speeds this brutal trifle of a film to a tidy conclusion.