Let's get one thing straight: Vinnie Jones is one film short of being a very big star. He's got the screen presence, he's got the attitude and he's got a CV full of scene-stealing support roles (Lock, Stock..., Gone In 60 Seconds, Swordfish...). All he needs is one starring role in one hit movie. Sadly, Mean Machine isn't that movie.
Why? Well, it's not simply because it's a remake. The original Mean Machine was a '70s Burt Reynolds' vehicle, with American football instead of soccer. Hard and nasty, it was an enjoyable potboiler with just enough comedy to take the edge off the violence. In theory, it'd be perfect for a little transatlantic up-dating.
But director Barry Skolnick scuffs his shot at it. In his hands, Mean Machine tries to teeter towards outright comedy. All of the original's jokes are there - - often word for word - - but he's hauled in a bunch of prison guffaw clichés to go with them. So we get a Grouty-esque con godfather, a cafeteria scrap and loads of cheery inmates living a fairly nice cell life.
Most of it's lazy stuff, but what makes it worse is that Skolnick's not cranked down the nastiness at the same time. His Mean Machine is a comedy with a streak of jaw-dropping violence. It's an uncomfortable mix: imagine an episode of Porridge where after 25 minutes of stealing grapefruit from the kitchens and hiding Mr Barrowclough's false teeth, someone decided to shiv Fletcher in the showers. Doesn't work, does it?
Then after an hour, the match between the cons and the screws finally starts. Now, you've got to applaud it for making Vinnie look like a silky skilled Beckham clone - something no coach ever managed - but on the whole it's a disaster. Played entirely for laughs, what should be a corking finale descends into half an hour of aimless slapstick. Like the film as a whole, it's an opportunity they blaze over the bar.