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'Mean Machine'

'Mean Machine' falls short of 'Longest Yard'

Friday, March 15, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Did something get lost in the translation, or does "Mean Machine" need subtitles just so we can understand all that British slang?

'Mean Machine'

RATING: R for language and some violence.

STARRING: Vinnie Jones, David Kelly, David Hemmings.

DIRECTOR: Barry Skolnick.

WEB SITE: www.paramountclassics



This remake of the 1974 Burt Reynolds film "The Longest Yard" still features hardened jailbirds and sadistic guards taking it out on each other in a brutal game of football -- but in England, that's the game Americans refer to as soccer.

Reynolds played college football but "Mean Machine" boasts a pro in the lead -- Vinnie Jones, who played in the English soccer leagues and became known for his rough-and-tumble tactics. He made his movie debut in the British caper film "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," directed by Guy Ritchie, better known as Madonna's husband.

"Mean Machine" was produced by Ritchie's partner, Matthew Vaughn, and directed by first-timer Barry Skolnick, who attempts to emulate Ritchie's too-hip-for-the-room style of hit-and-run pace, comic edge, macho camaraderie and gangster pulp.

Unfortunately, he forgets to include the richness of character and the sheer confidence that Ritchie imbues in his films. "Mean Machine" also lacks the political subtext of "The Longest Yard," directed by Robert Aldrich, hard-boiled chronicler of antiheroes.

In that movie, you may recall, the sadistic warden played by Eddie Albert orders the prisoners to form a football team not just to give his semipro squad of prison guards some practice but also to show the convicts who's boss by having the guards crush them on the field and pummel them psychologically. It's all about the power.

In "Mean Machine," the warden, known as the governor (David Hemmings), wants his guards to win primarily because he's placed a big bet on them with a bookie to whom he is already in serious debt. It's all about the money.

Maybe that makes him more like Jones' character, Danny Meehan, who got tossed out of professional soccer for throwing a big game against arch-rival Germany. Even the prisoners hate him for that. "You can hold up a bank, rob your old man, even kill a bloke. But sell your country in a game? It's un-bloody English," one con tells him.

Would he sell out the cons in the big game? Maybe. Would the warden sell out his own mother to win his bet? Definitely. There's the difference between them, and it would require a lot more character study than "Mean Machine" offers to make anything worthwhile of it.

It might also require a better actor than Jones, who has strong presence but few expressions. Much of the rest of the cast consists of Guy Ritchie veterans, who can be counted upon to be colorful at the very least. So is their language -- it's a pity that so much of it is unintelligible to the American ear.

"Mean Machine" does little to dissuade anyone from the notion that renting "The Longest Yard" might be the better choice -- especially as the violence of American football is more suited to the story than soccer, even with all the dirty play that was lock, stock and smoking barrel of Jones' athletic career.

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