The Magnificent Eleven
The Magnificent Eleven began life as a prototype sitcom with a working title of Cowboys & Indians. Updating Western conventions to the present day East End of London, its ‘Cowboys’ were cowboy builders, while the ‘Indians’ ran the local curry house. Penned by eventual producer John Adams, the thinly-sketched first draft received a makeover from his father Pete (the pair had previously written low-budget horror pic S.N.U.B! together) and gradually mutated into a more over homage to The Magnificent Seven, as well as a potential feature. This time around the Cowboys were reinvented as a lowly Sunday league football team who, in seeking sponsorship from the nearby Taj Tandoori, find themselves roped in as unwitting security against neighbourhood gangster, American Bob. Just to complete the nod to the classic Western, Bob is played by Robert Vaughn, one of the original Seven.
The Eleven, on the other hand, are made up of a collection of familiar (and vaguely familiar) British faces. Keith Allen and the seemingly ubiquitous Sean Pertwee are among the most recognisable, though fans of Peak Practice should also spot Gary Mavers, while Philip Rhys did a series-long stint on 24. As for the rest, scans of the IMDb reveal that almost everyone involved has done at least episode of Casualty. Filling out the supporting cast, we also have Paul Barber, best-known to many for his roles in The Full Monty and Only Fools and Horses, playing the team coach and Joanna Harrison (whose film career hasn’t yet lived up to the promise of her debut picture, My Brother Tom, in which she starred opposite Ben Whishaw) as Allen’s daughter. Eagle-eyed viewers will also spot Irvine Welsh (who gave the screenplay a final brush-up) and former footballers Dion Dublin, Ian Walker and Chris Kamara. Another ex-player pops up for a final shot reveal, though it’s best to save that revelation for first time viewers.
The casting of Allen brings to mind an episode of The Comic Strip Presents… he made almost 30 years ago, namely A Fistful of Travellers’ Cheques. It used Spaghetti Western clichés as a framework for general silliness and still holds up well to this day. (It also inspired Edgar Wright’s first feature, A Fistful of Fingers, though that one’s disappeared entirely from sight.) Yet for all its nods in the direction of the genre – the plot borrowings, the casting of Vaughn, Phil Lawrence’s oater-infused score – The Magnificent Eleven seems less concerned with paying homage to the Western than it does with aping big screen British successes of recent years. The Full Monty is the obvious template, what with many of the Cowboys seeking employment and some of them (mostly Pertwee, Rhys and Allen) struggling with their family lives back home. There’s also the slightest hint of East is East in there, not to mention a helping of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, albeit to an even more cartoonish degree. This is, after all, intended as a feel-good flick.
Unfortunately, this mixture of influences and templates means that The Magnificent Eleven never quite decides as to the film it wishes to be. There are too many disparate elements pulling in too many different directions and, consequently, the whole affair ends up feeling somewhat sketchy and underdeveloped. There’s very little for the actors to get their teeth into and the various situations don’t have the chance to develop into something we become invested in. Do we care if the Cowboys ever win a game? Or that American Bob gets his comeuppance? Or that any of the subplots – which take in a romance, a break-up and a business deal – will resolve themselves into a set of inevitable happy endings? Not particularly, and that’s The Magnificent Eleven’s biggest failure. Whilst there’s a nice idea at its centre, ultimately it doesn’t really amount to much.
Eureka Entertainment have picked up The Magnificent Eleven for UK DVD release. It’s an extras-heavy disc, but one that’s blighted by some presentation issues. The film comes in its original aspect ratio (2.35:1, anamorphically enhanced) and has as clean a picture as you would expect from such a recent production, but something’s gone wrong on the horizontal axis whereby the image duplicates itself so slightly within the same frame. Objects end up having two borders or an actor may find himself with four eyebrows – I presume there has been an error in converting the framerate, though whatever the reason there’s no denying just how distracting this issue is, particularly during long shots or any set-up involving a lot of straight lines. The soundtrack, however, is perfectly acceptable and appears in a DD5.1 mix. Optional English subtitles for the hard of hearing are also available.
Extras consist of a group commentary and a collection of featurettes, plus the obligatory trailer. Director Jeremy Wooding, producer and co-writer John Adams and actor Gary Mavers appear for the first of these and make for a mostly chatty bunch. Admittedly it’s a bit light on the pre-production side of things and tends to describe character motivation and what’s happening onscreen a bit too much, but it’s an engaging enough listen. Of the various featurettes, the 12-minute chat with Robert Vaughn is the choice addition, mainly because he talks as much about The Magnificent Seven as he does The Magnificent Eleven. The other pieces, entitled ‘Cowboys & Indians’, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Fruity’, ‘The Mild Bunch’ and ‘A Fistful of Crotchets’, could easily have been edited into a standalone piece, especially as they take on the same format. Wooding and Adams (plus a few others) provide interview soundbites interspersed with B-roll footage and the odd clip. Only the last of them, devoted as it is to Phil Lawrence’s score, changes tact slightly. As with the commentary, there are bits of insight to be had here and there, plus the occasional bit of larking about and a lot of patting each other on the back. Unlike the main feature, none of the extras come with optional subtitles.