A tell-all memoir about life as a prison officer delivers only generic entertainment in the routine British low-budgeter “Screwed.” Adapted from Ronnie Thompson’s colorful expose of the same name, pic sees a former soldier trade one uniform for another, while negotiating regulation plotlines involving corrupt wardens, officially sanctioned criminality among prisoners, and cynical, careerist management. Lacking major cast names, this Lionsgate U.K. release looks unlikely to lock down significant auds in hard-top situations, but will pay better dividends when paroled to ancillary. Jailbreak excursions to foreign shores should prove brief.
Returning from a traumatic tour of duty in Iraq, Sam (James D’Arcy) lacks the skill set to make a smooth return to civilian life. Pressured by wife Danielle (Kate Magowan) to provide for their young son, he reluctantly takes the only job open to him: prison guard. His gutsy participation in a violent altercation at the big house earns him approval and the friendship of one officer, Deano (Frank Harper), and the jealous enmity of another, Huntingdon (Simon Rhodes).
Storyline, crafted by Thompson with an assist by novelist-turned-scriptwriter Colin Butts (“Is Harry on the Boat?”), takes too long to build, and is initially content just to establish a web of relationships inside and outside the jail. Plot eventually hinges on a battle between prisoners to control the drug trade inside, and the bent officers who profit from this activity. Deciding whom to trust and choosing between lesser evils is the name of the game for our principled protagonist. Denouement, par for the genre, occurs against the chaotic backdrop of a full-scale prison riot.
Journeyman helmer Reg Traviss, following up little-seen earlier efforts “Joy Division” and “Psychosis,” makes a counterintuitive casting choice with leading man D’Arcy, more typically seen playing posh characters such as Ian Fleming (in “Age of Heroes”), Sherlock Holmes and King Edward VIII in the upcoming “W.E.” His perf here elevates a potentially cliched character, but the actor’s relevance to the pic’s target aud is moot. Lionsgate’s marketing sensibly spotlights Noel Clarke (“Adulthood”), suitably menacing here as kingpin inmate Truman, who uses psychological insight into Sam’s soldiering scars to skillfully push his buttons. Magowan is short-changed by her role as Danielle, who watches from the sidelines as her husband spirals downward into alcohol and cocaine abuse.
Following slim theatrical returns for British prison drama “The Escapist,” which opened in Blighty in June 2008 on 67 prints, it’s hard to envisage a kinder fate for “Screwed,” which is benefiting from a similar-size domestic release. Title, incidentally, is a pun on “screw,” Brit slang for a correctional officer.