Directed by Robert Aldrich, who also made the darkest of noirs with the 1955 classic Kiss Me Deadly, the 1974 football movie The Longest Yard was intended foremost as a vehicle for Burt Reynolds' swaggering machismo, but its play-dirty brutality and fierce anti-authoritarian spirit come from a proud B-movie tradition. The dire British remake Mean Machine changes the sport from American football to soccer, removes all the hard-R comic raunchiness and social commentary, and flattens the story into a formulaic snobs-vs.-slobs scenario with competent gameplay and not a single surprise. Former soccer star Vinnie Jones stands in for Reynolds, but with his notorious temperament, both on the pitch and off—he once bit a journalist in the nose, and he amassed a dozen red cards over his career, including one five seconds after kickoff—he doesn't have the same relaxed, fun-loving charisma. Jones' stony, pugnacious face made him a fine cinderblock in Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Gone In 60 Seconds, but no one would cast him in a remake of Smokey And The Bandit. The differences between Jones and Reynolds would be more crucial if Mean Machine had a fraction of The Longest Yard's already-skimpy ambition, but commercial director Barry Skolnick aims for nothing more substantial than an ingratiating comedy with a big-game ending. Jones plays a former star forward who, still reeling from his involvement in fixing a match, gets arrested for driving drunk and assaulting two police officers. Intent on getting a 12-month parole on a three-year sentence, he tries to serve his time quietly, but his celebrity attracts hostility from all sides, including a mob kingpin (John Forgeham) who lost money on the fixed match, a crooked warden (David Hemmings), and a thicket of snarling thugs. But Jones eventually wins the inmates' favor and coaches a requisitely ragtag team to a climactic soccer match against the guards. Mean Machine introduces a few colorful characters, most notably David Kelly (Waking Ned Devine), who reprises his sentimental role in Greenfingers as a grizzled lifer who befriends the hero, and Jason Statham as the cute homicidal-maniac-turned-goalkeeper who once killed 23 people with his bare hands. The soccer match is a full reel shorter than the infamous 45-minute football game in The Longest Yard, but while competently staged and punched up by Lock, Stock's changing camera speeds, it doesn't have the wit or intrigue to sustain its half-length. In the tradition of Rocky clones, inevitability triumphs over uplift.
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