Lucky Break Review
After 1997's The Full Monty became the most successful British film ever in the UK, there has been a procession of pretenders to the throne. Some, such as Notting Hill and Bridget Jones' Diary, have been excellent; others, such as the lamentable Mad Cows, have been so poor as to make one wonder why a British film industry exists at all. However, the pressure was obviously too much for Simon Beaufoy, the writer of The Full Monty, as his recent films have all been far more serious and sombre in nature. Therefore, the 'comeback' of Monty's director, Peter Cattaneo, was awaited with some interest, despite his protestations that the film was not going to be as successful, in an interesting reversal of pre-release hype. However, it's almost certainly the case he is right.
The plot is a rather odd mixture of Renoir's La Grand Illusion and Porridge. Jimmie (Nesbitt) and Rudy (James) are a pair of bumbling bank robbers who are sent to prison once again, where they plan to escape, using the cover of a musical, as written by the showtune-loving governor (Plummer). Unfortunately, Jimmie begins to fall in love with the prison counsellor (Williams), just as things threaten to go horribly wrong...
In all fairness to the film, it's never less than watchable, and at times a great deal more. The cast is very good, with the best performances coming from the great Bill Nighy as a wealthy fraudster and Plummer as Governor Mortimer, whose life's ambition is to see his musical of Nelson's life, including such songs as 'Kiss me, Hardy' staged. Nesbitt and Williams make an appealing central couple, even if the romance does feel rushed and incredible, and Timothy Spall is good in a supporting role as Jimmie's bullied cellmate. On a more basic level, there are a good deal of laughs, and even a suspenseful ending; if that's all you really want from a film of this sort, don't bother reading the rest of this review.
However, there's also plenty wrong with it. While the mix of pathos and humour worked fairly well in The Full Monty, it feels fairly ridiculous here, with one tragic plot twist seemingly being thrown in to make things seem more sombre, and an air of gritty social realism that feels entirely at odds with the light-hearted caper plot of the escape and the musical. Part of the problem is that Ronan Bennett, the screenwriter, is a fine writer of serious drama (Face, his 1997 film with Robert Carlyle, is one of the most underrated films of the 1990s), but he seems uneasy at having to write jokes, with the biggest laughs coming from the Stephen Fry-scripted Nelson musical at the end.
Another problem here is that the entire enterprise feels strangely half-hearted, with character conflicts being set up and left dangling. There's a feeling throughout of proceedings being rushed, of potentially intriguing situations never happening, and a general air of insignificance until the musical finale and escape attempt actually get into gear; this is easily the best section of the film, and it's a shame when it's all over. The eventual resolution is slightly more surprising than you would have guessed, but only slightly, with plot threads being left dangling unsatisfactorily at the end.
However, the film makes no pretensions to being great art, really; it's an enjoyable British comedy, not in the first class, but certainly a far better evening's entertainment than trash like Final Fantasy or Tomb Raider. Ultimately, can you really dislike a film that features the immortal lyric 'I can see you clearly, though I only have one eye'?