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Friday, March 8, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

'Mean Machine' runs on testosterone

Seattle Times movie critic

"Mean Machine"

**
With Vinnie Jones, David Kelly, David Hemmings, Ralph Brown, Vas Blackwood, Jason Statham. Directed by Barry Skolnick, from a screenplay by Charlie Fletcher, Chris Baker and Andrew Day. 99 minutes. Rated R for language and some violence. Varsity.
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Barry Skolnick's sports comedy "Mean Machine" is an extremely faithful remake of the 1974 Burt Reynolds' hit "The Longest Yard," except that it's British, the sport is soccer instead of football, and the hero's first scene doesn't involve him slamming a woman headlong onto a tile floor. This last bit, I suppose, is progress.

Not that "Mean Machine" is at all progressive, or especially original: It's a testosterone-heavy blend of soccer, brawling, prison tension and exactly one woman, whose miniscule role consists of smiling naughtily and, at one point, having sex with the sports-hero-turned-convict Danny Meehan (Vinnie Jones). Bernadette Peters played this rather thankless role with high-haired aplomb in the original; smiley-eyed Sally Phillips ("Bridget Jones's Diary") does the honors here.

So it's no chick flick, but hey, you knew that from the title. What "Mean Machine" is, though, is a fairly enjoyable mixture of "Longest Yard," from which it borrows a plot (an inmates' soccer team takes on the warden's team, resulting in a Big Game), and the 1999 Guy Ritchie caper "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," from which it borrows a producer, several cast members and a sense of manly game-playing.

Jones, himself a former soccer star who made his movie debut in "Lock Stock" (he's also been seen in the Hollywood releases "Gone in 60 Seconds" and "Swordfish"), is surprisingly good in his first star-vehicle role. With steely-eyed good looks reminiscent of British actor Clive Owen ("Croupier"), Jones has a nicely cocky, chiseled presence.

He's surrounded by a funny supporting cast, including the diminutive Vas Blackwood as prison busybody Massive (the name, Massive tells us in a Cockney-ish drawl, is "eye-ronic"); David Hemmings, eyebrows so pointy they look magnetized, as the prison governor; Jason Statham as a psychotic goalie; and David Kelly ("Waking Ned Devine") as a tough-but-twinkly older prisoner full of "jailblock wisdom."

The movie wanders through a number of moods — sometimes goofy comedy (the early James Bond spoof is hilarious), sometimes grim prison drama, sometimes music-video-like sports footage — and rarely goes anywhere surprising (especially if you've seen "The Longest Yard"). But, in the end, it's a perfectly likable diversion — and, of course, manly as all-get-out.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

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