Mean Machine (2001)

Rating: B

Dir: Barry Skolnick
Star: Vinnie Jones, David Hemmings, Vas Blackwood, David Kelly

Is Skolnick a pseudonym for Guy Ritchie? For this seems like one of his, in style, content and actors (Jones, Blackwood, Jason Statham, Jason Flemyng are all known from Ritchie’s work). Luckily, this also captures much of the same cheerful thuggery and quirkiness that made Snatch and Lock such undiluted fun. It’s a remake of classic Burt Reynolds vehicle The Longest Yard, with football replacing gridiron, and Jones replacing Reynolds – his former England captain Danny Meehan (ironically, Jones played for Wales!) is sent to prison and coerced into organising a guards vs. cons game, for which he must shape up a bunch of losers, etc, etc.

We know exactly how this is going to go, and the plot has a ludicrous hole – who would bet on a game played by convicts, led by a man notorious for having thrown a match? And yet, while totally predictable, you can’t help love characters such as Statham’s psycho, who proves the adage about goalkeepers being totally mental. The more you know about football, the more you’ll get out of it – not least Meehan’s lecture on how to foul (Jones, of course, was famously hard), and the fabulous commentators on the match who are a spot-on parody of their breed. In the company of these thieves, the time flies past, and rarely can such violence have been found in a feel-good movie.