Directed by: Barry Skolnick
Written by:Charlie Fletcher, Chris Baker, Andrew Day
Starring: Vinnie Jones, David Kelly, David Hemmings, Jason Flemyng, Danny Dyer, Jason Statham
Released: May 9, 2002
Grade: B

With the World Cup of Soccer (or should I say Football) coming up in just a few weeks, what better an opportunity to release this simple English flick about yes, soccer.  Take care not to be fooled by the slightly misleading advertising - this film is not from the director of Snatch and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels but rather is from the same producer.  There’s a big difference and you’ll notice that straight away.  The film isn’t as slick.

Mean Machine begins with Danny Meehan (Jones) being sentenced to three years jail for drink driving and striking a police officer.  Meehan is a celebrity in prison as he was once the captain of the English soccer team before having his reputation trashed for deliberately losing an important soccer game.  On his opening day in the slammer, Meehan is approached by the prison’s Governor (Hemmings) to coach the guards’ soccer team to help them get promoted in their local competition.

He refuses and is punished with time in solitary confinement.  Once back amongst the ranks, they give him a suggestion as a compromise to the Governor.  Meehan will organise, coach and play in a soccer team made up of the inmates to take on the guards’ team as a pre-season opener to toughen them up.  But this is about more than just a friendly game.  It’s a chance for the inmates to get revenge for years of torment and a chance for the guards to show they are still the boss.

The film’s opening hour is pretty flat.  We meet the characters, understand a little about them, have a couple of quick adventures but that’s about it.  There aren’t enough laughs either.  Jason Statham is the best character of the bunch as Monk but the script doesn’t offer him much screen time.  In addition to the pending soccer game, there’s a more interesting subplot in watching one of the inmates control the Governor with the offer of inside tips on racehorses.

The big game then arrives and I won’t spoil it for those who can’t foresee its result.  The direction of the soccer scenes was cool - there’s a mix of a fast-mo, slow-mo and regular-mo.  Plus some great “in your face” camera angles and some hilarious commentary from two of the inmates.  It’s definitely the best part of the flick but a little late to make significant inroads into its success.

Next week sees the release of... drum-roll please... Star Wars Episode 2: Attack Of The Clones.  It’s guaranteed to be screening on about every second cinema which means there’ll be little room for a small English flick about soccer.  So if you’re tempted to check out the efforts of the Mean Machine, I wouldn’t be wasting any time.