Paramount Classics is eager to inform you that Mean Machine, a remake of Robert Aldrich's 1974 film The Longest Yard, is from the same people who brought you Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Given the expectations this creates, it's no surprise that what's delivered is diverting, fast paced and, of course, violent. In the end Mean Machine is also utterly disposable, but goes down quickly and painlessly. Danny Meehan (Vinnie Jones) is an ex-soccer (football to you Brits) star, who finds himself serving a three-year prison sentence after drunkenly assaulting two policemen. When Meehan arrives at jail, he discovers that the prison governor (David Hemmings) has his mind set on the man taking over coaching duties of the guard soccer team. The plan is undermined by the fact that the guards won't allow a prisoner to be their coach, and several of them explain their feelings to the new celebrity convict in no uncertain terms. A lunchroom scuffle leads Danny to a stay in solitary confinement, where he is presented with an idea by a fellow inmate named Massive (Vas Blackwood): Tell the governor that you are going to build a team of prisoners to square off in a game against the guards. Meehan takes the advice and with the help of Massive and seen-it-all prison veteran Doc (David Kelly), assembles a makeshift squad for the monumental event. But if you thought Meehan's troubles ended there, you are sorely mistaken. He also has to contend in a power struggle with the leader of the inmates, Sykes (John Forgeham), whose authority in the prison outweighs that of the governor. There's also a matter of a notorious incident from Meehan's past when he "threw" an important soccer match in order to pay off a large gambling debt. Meehan braves all of the obstacles and eventually prepares his athletically crude unit, now known as The Mean Machine, a bit too well in the eyes of the governor, who has placed a huge wager (thanks to a tip by the double crossing Sykes) on the team of guards to try and pay off his own debt to a bookie. When the prisoners take a lead in the no-holds-barred match, the governor demands that Meehan revisit his game-throwing tendencies.
Executive Producer Guy Ritchie's influence is more than slightly evident in first time feature director Barry Skolnick's style. You get the requisite mini music videos, a camera which refuses to sit still, shots that don't appear on screen for more than a few seconds (what ever became of the art of composition?), and an abundance of stylized violence tossed in for good measure. Many of Ritchie's regular actors are along for the ride too, such as Jones (who's actually asked to do more than just wear his patented steely glare), Blackwood, Jason Flemyng, and most notably Jason Statham, as martial arts savvy psychopath Monk.
What eluded Skolnick is Ritchie's edge (no matter how manufactured it may be). It's a classic underdog story, but the good guys aren't really that good nor are the bad guys that bad. The pacing is haphazard at best, skipping any sort of character development and snapping the plot into motion so hastily that one wishes they would've indulged in a primer of The Longest Yard immediately prior to seeing this remake. The soccer match is the centerpiece of the film, and its lengthy screen time is unwarranted, not only because of its predictability, but also due to the lack of a satisfying payoff. Just exactly what tremendous hurdle did this team of convicts leap? There are also several bumbling comic attempts, which come across as much more sophomoric than anything I would've imagined Ritchie would be associated with.
Mean Machine contains all the substance of a Twinkie -- easy to swallow, but scarcely nourishing. When you wake up in the morning, you'll be hard-pressed to recall the viewing experience.
On DVD, you can have it your way -- with the original UK version or the US cut. What's the difference? Damned if we know. The film's too dull to sit through twice -- you're on your own!
Mean shoe collection.