After disgraced ex-England football captain, Danny 'Mean Machine' Meehan, is sent to prison for assaulting a police officer, he quickly finds that, on the inside, his name counts for nothing. But then he takes control of a cons versus guards football match...
Football. It's a funny old game, apparently - full of unbelievable comebacks and last-minute reprieves. Not unlike Vinnie Jones' movie career. After his truly awful turn in Swordfish, it seemed that whatever acting talent the lovable lug possessed had well and truly evaporated. Not so. In this enjoyable remake of the 1974 Robert Aldrich American football movie, Jones may be no Burt Reynolds (it's all his own hair, for one thing), but in giving the film a likeable, commanding central presence, he's banged in a 30-yard, extra-time winner.
With Guy Ritchie warming the bench as 'supervising' producer, first-time director Barry Skolnick dons the sheepskin coat and, after an overly gimmicky opening, settles down to create a movie of two halves.
The first is a gritty portrayal of British prison life. This bit leaves no cliche unturned, from the characters - the wily old lag, the fixer, the corrupt governor (a superb performance from David Hemmings' elephantine eyebrows, hovering four feet above his head) - to events (Meehan's first night in solitary, the shiv attack in the showers). It's much the weaker section, although it does allow the excellent supporting cast, including old Ska Films stalwarts Statham and Blackwood, to establish their scene-stealing credentials.
It's in the second half - the football half - where Mean Machine really shifts into gear, abandoning all pretence of seriousness. Footie and film have always been unhappy bedfellows, but the boy Skolnick sure can shoot the beautiful game, assisted by the Jones stamp of authenticity.
Its admittedly not saying much, but the climactic 30-minute showdown between guards and cons could be the greatest celluloid soccer game ever - tough, realistic and hilarious. And if Mean Machine can't quite match Aldrich's acerbic ferocity, this should be entertaining enough, even if you don't know shit from Ginola.
Jones recaptures his old form in a fun movie which may not hit Treble-winning Liverpool heights, but is still a hell of a lot better than watching Leicester City.
Reviewed by Chris Hewitt