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Paramount Studios presents
"You're nicked, sweetheart!"
DVD ReviewAs a general rule, I'm usually not a fan of movies in which sports are a central theme. I'm not one for the unsung hero who pushes out from the crowd and, as expected, wins the big football game or the big basketball game, or big whatever. There are those rare times, though, when clichés we've all seen a hundred times can actually be put to good use in something with a lot of style, personality, and flair. Mean Machine is one those movies, and ironically, it's a remake of the 1974, American film The Longest Yard, starring Burt Reynolds. The difference here, though, is in the overall style (it's distinctly British) and the sport in question is not football, but rather soccer. of course, soccer is called football in the U.K., so it is about football, I guess. Semantic confusion aside, Mean Machine is from the same school of filmmaking that produced Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch.
Right up front, getting it out of the way, yes those two movies (both directed by Guy Ritchie) are horribly overrated, as are most European comedies that dazzle people here in the U.S., simply by virtue of being so different from the usual stuff pumped out domestically. However, ...Two Smoking Barrels was also a pretty funny idea, and I guess I can't blame Guy Ritchie for trying to catch lightning twice. Mean Machine features almost all of the central cast of Barrels and Snatch, and it also is directed very much in a Guy Ritchie style, though the chair belonged to Barry Skolnick. Like anyone, I was skeptical that this approach would work well, since it's been done before. Surprisingly, it does work, thanks to the fact that the actors are in different roles here, and there's less of that street crime motif going on. Instead, it's a little more lighthearted and dramatically focused on those previous Ritchie productions. Main star Vinnie Jones, normally playing the mute 'heavy' who beats people up, spreads his acting wings a bit as a vulnerable and bitter soccer pro.
The story revolves around Danny Meehan (Vinnie Jones), a one-time legend on the English soccer field, whose career has gone down the toilet thanks to suspicions that he's taken money to throw games, along with persistent drunk driving citations. He goes for another one of his "rides," gets arrested and thrown in prison for 1 year. Once there, he meets adversity everywhere he looks, mainly because so many inmates were soccer fans, only to have their hopes for the British team smashed when Danny threw his games. The thoroughly corrupt warden (David Hemmings) asks Meehan to help coach the in-prison soccer team, composed of the guards. After waking up to the problems within the prison and how to earn back some respect from the inmates, Meehan proposes something else: he coaches and captains a team of convicts that he assembles, who then play an exhibition game against the guard's team.
The problem is, Meehan doesn't have any friends, other than the scheming 'Massive' (Vas Blackwood), a local mob chief who lost money on him some years back, many of the guards are corrupt, and a prison snitch has been secretly charged with sabotaging the whole game. So, what results is a film firmly split into two halves: the first, where Meehan must achieve respect and get some inmates to play on his side; the second, where they must prepare to play, then have the actual game. While much of the film is firmly rooted in the screenplay of the original Longest Yard, the quirky humor works much better here. The characters are given great personalities, and some of the more bizarre twists in both the direction and the style of comedy create an interesting environment. The result is nothing that hasn't been seen before, but regardless, it's extremely funny. The breakneck pace leaves plenty of room for all sorts of minor prison drama to fill in the gaps as well.
As I mentioned, one of the great breaths of fresh air is that the Lock, Stock crew in the film are not playing roles that are like that project. Things are much different, which is probably the best part. The "been there, seen that" syndrome that effected Snatch so badly is gone here. It's a lot of fun, overall, and the idea of convicts versus guards is used for all it's worth in an amazingly well filmed and brilliantly played out 30-minute soccer sequence, which makes all the set-up totally worth it. I like comedies, but it's not often one makes me laugh out loud so much in one sitting, but I have to admit, Mean Machine charmed me. It sometimes is a little obvious and relies on old gags, but it didn't bother me. It'll likely win over just about anyone in the mood for a slick riot of fun.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic transfer is, for the most part, impressive and obviously up to the standards most people expect from recent films on DVD. Unfortunately, it suffers from a rather strong edge-enhancement problem. It isn't fatal, but it will be obvious to anyone with a basic television (which is 90% of the viewing public). Virtually everything gives off rings and moiré effects. The rainbowing is especially bad in closeups. The smooth depth of the image is, sadly, compromised because of this. It also makes the aliasing from the anamorphic enhancement stand out like a sore thumb. The better the display, the less the problems will be, but the over-sharpening is still a very obvious issue.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The disc features two Dolby 5.1 mixes in English. This might sound odd, but it seems to have been done for the benefit of those who simply cannot understand the thicker and more emphatic English accents of the characters, with all the Scots, Irish, and Cockney-isms mixed in. For the record, the accents of the central actors are not as artificially pronounced as they were in Lock, Stock. In any case, both mixes are identical, except for some moments in the "domestic" version where dubbing is used to replace certain words and sentences, making them a bit easier to understand. Unfortunately, the dub is a bit awkward, because it sounds so much like how movies sound when bad words are dubbed over; the voices simply don't match well. In any case, the audio is pretty much centralized in the front speakers. Split surround effects do come up now and then, but it's usually for crowd noises or something like that. Some frontal directionality spices up the quick editing and frentic pace, but there aren't a lot of effects.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Extras Review: Other than English subtitles, there are no additional features to the disc. Presentation is basic, but functional.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsMean Machine is, in my opinion, superior to the film on which it is based, which may sound like heresy to some. It's an immensely enjoyable comedy spiced up by a great cast and a few creative twists. It stretches the "let's make a movie exactly like Guy Ritchie would" school of filmmaking to a limit, but luckily doesn't break.
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