The British Sports in Prison movie “Mean Machine” is a remake of the American Sports in Prison film “The Longest Yard,” about convicts who uses a game of football to get back at their prison guards. “Mean Machine” replaces football with, well, football (only the international kind, meaning soccer to all you Americans out there). Since the film credits the “The Longest Yard” in its opening sequence (and since I have not seen the American version), I am going under the assumption that the two films are direct adaptations of each other, and leave it at that.
“Mean Machine” is essentially a comedy, which is a good thing because its prison situations are laughably clich’d at best and uninteresting at worst. Vinnie Jones stars as Danny, nicknamed “Mean Machine” during his days as a soccer star. Danny has since retired from the game after a series of scandals, one of which involves him selling out an important game. Obviously this little background information is a crucial one because it will come back to haunt Danny when, during the guards vs. cons soccer game, he’s once again faced with the dilemma. Of course we all know Danny will overcome this and choose the right path this time. How do we know this? Because this is a movie, and in movies characters always choose the right path when given a second shot at it.
What “Mean Machine” boils down to is a series of familiar scenes where Danny, now no longer a big shot, tries to garner back some measure of respect in the prison and its inmates. Being a former big shot here only means Danny is the subject of disgust, since as one con informs him, he has “pissed away” everything the cons ever dreamt about. This all invariably leads to that one scene where Danny goes beyond the call of duty and, as a result, shows the other cons he ain’t such a bad guy. Actually, Danny gets into the other cons’ good graces rather quickly — too quickly, in fact.
The soccer game against the guards takes up the film’s Third Act (about 30 minutes), and as a result there’s a lot of build-up to it. The film does a very bad job of convincing us just why we should hate the prison guards and its warden, a hopelessly addicted gambler who needs the game to pay off his debts. There are a few scenes of mistreatment by the guards toward the cons, but besides anything out of the ordinary, I have a hard time understanding why I should hate the guards. (One could easily reason that the guards are just trying to maintain calm, as well as their dominant position in a building full of dangerous murderers and psychopaths.) In those ways, the game loses a lot of its intended impact.
“Mean Machine” works best as a comedy. It has a wealth of interesting characters that besides being cast straight from Clich’ Casting Central, are quite funny and distinctive in personality and look. Jason Statham (“The One”) stands out the most as Monk, a sociopathic mass murderer who becomes the cons’ goalie. Monk daydreams of killing prison guards during the game and has a bad habit of abandoning the goal post to go on offense. Funny stuff.
“Mean Machine” is a straightforward film that doesn’t seem to be trying too hard to do much of anything. It’s highly predictable, the dialogue is sometimes hard to understand (all those accents and slangs!), but the film’s overall feel is that of fun. That last part it achieves in spades, and maybe that’s all it was ever trying to go for in the first place.
Barry Skolnick (director) / Tracy Keenan Wynn, Charlie Fletcher, Chris Baker, Andrew Day (screenplay)
CAST: Vinnie Jones …. Danny
David Kelly …. Doc
David Hemmings …. Governor