Directed by Barry Skolnick, starring Vinnie Jones, David Hemmings, Vas Blackwood, Ralph Brown & David Kelly.
Aggro, crunching tackles, run-ins with the authorities. No, it's not the Vinnie Jones biopic, just the latest stage in his rebirth as the screen hardman of choice. After high profile supports on both sides of the pond ('Snatch', Swordfish') Jones gets his first leading role and a subject that's close to his heart - how to beat the odds over 90 minutes.
He plays Danny Meehan, the former England football captain who now lives at the bottom of a bottle after deliberately throwing a crucial match against Germany. Never one to do things by half, Meehan goes on a massive bender, hits a policeman and later checks in for a three-year stay at Longmarsh Prison. Having basically committed treason in both the eyes of warders and inmates, Meehan's hopes for a quiet life seem to have eluded him. Until, that is, the shady Governor (Hemmings) comes to him with an offer.
Having pulled strings to get Meehan on his patch, the Governor now wants him to train the Warders' Football Team (led by 'Withnail and I' star Ralph Brown). Meehan declines, but comes back with a better idea: he'll train a team of prisoners to play the guards in a pre-season 'friendly'. But with every inmate banking on a win and the Governor betting that Meehan will revert to his old ways, the ex-pro comes to realise that the tactics that apply on the pitch also apply behind bars.
If the plot sounds more than a little familiar chances are you've seen Burt Reynolds in the 1974 prison movie of the same name. The sport and geography may be different, but this is as close to a carbon remake as possible with first-time director Skolnick lifting entire set pieces from the original. And while Jones' now has top billing, it seems that Skolnick wasn't sure how much of a script to give him.
Jones acquits himself well in his dealings with all the cast (especially David Kelly' and Vas Blackwood as his friends on the inside), but he never attains the dirty grin charisma that Reynolds possessed - you come away thinking that he needed more lines and less icy stares to make his character wholly credible.
The match itself is, thankfully, the best thing about the film with none of the cast playing an actor with a football and Skolnick's action recalling 'Lock, Stock...' crossed with the Nike ad featuring Eric Cantona and Ian Wright. The curses and fists fly, Vinnie has a crisis of conscience before getting stuck and by the final whistle you're convinced that this 'Mean Machine' was a decent TV outing that just doesn't have big screen magic.
Still, as any long suffering football fan will tell you, it's nice to see the right team win for a change.