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Former England soccer captain Danny “the Mean Machine” Meehan (Vinnie Jones) is on a downward spiral. His career has been ruined by match fixing allegations, and his only solace is in alcohol. He gets into a car chase with police and when he assaults the officers, Danny gets three years jail. The Governor’s (David Hemmings) gambling problems are largely due to Sykes (John Forgeham), the prison kingpin. When Danny arrives, the Governor wants him to coach the prison team. Mr Burton (Ralph Brown), a tough warder and current coach makes sure that doesn’t happen; but Danny seizes on a new idea – a cons v guards football match as a “pre-season friendly”. The Governor embraces the idea – as it’s one which gives him the chance to get rid of some pesky gambling debts. But for the rag-tag cons team, the game means a lot more.

Review by David Edwards:
Perfectly timed just after the soccer World Cup and the theatrical success of Bend it Like Beckham, this DVD release features the irrepressible Vinnie Jones in his first leading role, after supporting parts in films like Snatch. Thankfully for Vinnie, he gets to do what he does best – play football as tough and hard as he did in the Premier Division. The film itself is actually a remake of The Longest Yard, Robert Aldrich’s 1974 film starring Burt Reynolds. The action has been switched from the US to the UK, and the sport is changed from American football to soccer (although you’d hardly know it from some of the scenes here); but at its heart, this is still a straightforward story about triumphing against the odds.

To its credit though, the screenplay for Mean Machine does at least try to update the story somewhat. Instead of sheer sadism being the motivation for the game, we have a more complex web of prison politics and personal frailty. The guards team is not out to physically maim the inmates, but rather to maintain a very British sense of pride and discipline. Skolnick directs the film with considerable panache in his directorial debut, and Eddie Hamilton’s editing is a real highlight. The soccer sequences are staged with a blend of realism and theatrics (it wouldn’t be a prison movie without a few big hits, now would it). 

Its main problem though is that it takes a long while to get where it’s going, introducing and dispensing with characters along the way. The crucial event that gives the cons added incentive to win isn’t handled particularly effectively, lessening its impact in the overall scheme of things. The film also tends to concentrate heavily on Danny Meehan, leaving many of the supporting characters under-developed, to the extent that their presence is almost superfluous. Vinnie Jones is wonderful in a role that’s admittedly tailor-made for him. He actually shows a lot of depth and isn’t the out-and-out thug that might have been expected from his other film outings. He’s well supported by David Hemmings as the gullible prison warden, and Ralph Brown as the chief guard. Jason Statham (another Snatch alumnus) gets probably the plum of the supporting roles as the dangerous Monk.

As a DVD package, Mean Machine doesn’t offer a lot for hardcore DVD buffs, with little in the way of special features. There’s a choice of languages and scene selection, but not even so much as a “making of” featurette for those wanting to delve into the film. It does have one little curiosity though, the option of the “original” UK release soundtrack and the “domestic” (ie American) soundtrack, with modified dialogue so that some of the thicker accents can be understood. Not a bad choice if you’re struggling to keep up with the varied patois. 

Mean Machine isn’t the greatest sports movie (or the greatest prison movie, for that matter) ever made, but it is certainly a well-made film with quite a few exciting moments and plenty of humour. If you’re after subtlety or deep themes, look elsewhere. But if you’re after a popcorn movie with blokes hitting each other hard while kicking a ball, this could be for you.

Published October 10, 2002

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CAST: Vinnie Jones, David Hemmings, Ralph Brown, Jason Statham

DIRECTOR: Barry Skolnick

RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widecreen enhanced for 16 X 9; Dolby Digital; English 5.1 surround; French 5. surround; German 5.1 surround; Italian 5.1 surround; Spanish 5.1 surround; English subtitles for the hearing impaired

SPECIAL FEATURES: Language selection, subtitles, scene selection

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount Pictures Video

DVD RELEASE: October 18, 2002

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