×

Lucky Break

There are several potentially interesting pictures hiding away in the Brit character comedy "Lucky Break," but none of them swims into view for very long.

With:
Jimmy - James Nesbitt Annabel - Olivia Williams Cliff - Timothy Spall Roger - Bill Nighy Rudy - Lennie James Perry - Ron Cook John Toombes - Frank Harper Darren - Raymond Waring Graham Mortimer - Christopher Plummer Paul - Julian Barratt Officer George Barratt - Peter Wight Amy - Celia Imrie

There are several potentially interesting pictures hiding away in the Brit character comedy “Lucky Break,” but none of them swims into view for very long. A jail escape comedy in which the inmates plan to bust out during their performance of an amateur musical, pic is chained to the floor by a script that isn’t particularly funny, direction that goes for realism rather than stylization and an almost complete lack of comic timing. This first feature by helmer Peter Cattaneo since his surprise success “The Full Monty” is getting a massive ad-pub push from distrib FilmFour in the U.K., where it goes out on some 300 prints Aug. 24 (following world preem screenings at the Edinburgh fest), but pic will need to make most of its bundle in the first week before word of mouth sets in. Stateside release through Paramount is set for fall.

As his TV work prior to “Monty” — and stretches also of that pic — showed, Cattaneo’s strength lies in small-screen realism. “Monty” worked thanks to a strong concept and technical tweaking; in the case of “Lucky Break,” Irish writer Ronan Bennett, whose background is in serious, often lugubrious drama, was simply the wrong man for the job.

The film can’t make up its mind whether it’s a cheeky-chappy comedy, caper movie, romantic drama or socially aware look at the prison system, and Cattaneo seems to have no personal take on the material either. What’s left is an occasionally amusing, small British character piece stuffed with familiar local faces that briefly catches fire now and then. It’s the weakest of the three Brit crime comedies that have opened during the summer (following “High Heels and Low Lifes” and “The Parole Officer”).

Pre-title sequence is snappily put together as smalltime crims Jimmy (James Nesbitt) and Rudy (Lennie James), after 15 years of bad luck, try to pull off a bank job. Jimmy leaves Rudy to take the rap but is also captured soon afterward. Pacing and tone soon start to hit the floor as Jimmy is transferred — five years into his 12-year term — to an austere lock-up, Long Rudford, ruled with a rod of iron by security chief Perry (Ron Cook). There, Jimmy meets Rudy, understandably still peeved, and shares a cell with Cliff (Timothy Spall), a tubby, put-upon depressive.

The prison governor, Mortimer (Christopher Plummer), is an aging, mustachioed eccentric with a passion for Broadway musicals and aspirations of being a composer. After noticing how close the prison’s Old Chapel is to the perimeter wall, Jimmy encourages Mortimer to let the prisoners mount his unproduced work, “Nelson: The Musical,” there, and concocts an elaborate escape plan round the performance.

Once rehearsals for the tuner begin — with uncanny parallels to “The Full Monty” — the movie starts to pick up comic steam, with Julian Barratt adding touches of dry humor as a deadly serious Cambridge U. grad brought in as producer. Anne Dudley’s cornpone music and Stephen Fry’s book and lyrics for “Nelson” are among the funniest things in the film.

Pic’s focus, however, keeps sliding away to other plot strands — Jimmy’s putative romance with prisoner support officer Annabel (Olivia Williams), and personal backgrounds of other inmates, like Cliff and the snooty Roger (Bill Nighy) — which rupture the tone and hardly help to build up any ongoing rhythm. The actual prison break, in which all the strands should come together, is more confused than comically suspenseful.

Given the movie’s stress on realism, the Jimmy-Annabel side-plot is especially unbelievable, though Williams gives her side of the equation her best shot. Nesbitt, best known for TV work like “Cold Feet” and “Ballykissangel,” lacks the necessary projection and charisma to make a bigscreen leading man, especially when surrounded by fine character actors like Nighy, Spall, James, Cook and — in a late-on addition as a hard bruiser — the splendid Frank Harper. Plummer has some isolated fun as the loony governor.

Pic’s cold look, all blues and grays, by d.p. Alwin Kuchler doesn’t help to build much emotional warmth, and at 107 minutes the movie could safely lose a reel from its first hour. An end-titles sequence amusingly sketches what happened to the characters and includes a strangely moving epitaph to Spall’s character. For the rest, “Lucky Break” only works in fits and starts.

Lucky Break

U.K.

Production: A FilmFour Distributors (in U.K.)/Paramount (in U.S.) release of a FilmFour presentation, in association with Senator Film, Paramount Pictures and Miramax Films, of a Fragile Films/Lucky Break production. (International sales: FilmFour Intl., London.) Produced by Barnaby Thompson, Peter Cattaneo. Executive producers, Paul Webster, Hanno Huth. Co-producers, Lesley Stewart, Elinor Day. Directed by Peter Cattaneo. Screenplay, Ronan Bennett. Camera (color, widescreen), Alwin Kuchler; editor, David Gamble; music, Anne Dudley; lyrics (for "Nelson: The Musical").

Crew: Stephen Fry; production designer, Max Gottlieb; art director, Andrew Munro; costume designer, Ffion Elinor; sound (stereo), John Taylor; stunt coordinator, Andy Bradford; assistant director, Melanie Dicks; casting, Janey Fothergill. Reviewed at Empire, London, June 28, 2001. (In Edinburgh Film Festival; Venice Film Festival -- non-competing.) Running time: 107 MIN.

With: Jimmy - James Nesbitt Annabel - Olivia Williams Cliff - Timothy Spall Roger - Bill Nighy Rudy - Lennie James Perry - Ron Cook John Toombes - Frank Harper Darren - Raymond Waring Graham Mortimer - Christopher Plummer Paul - Julian Barratt Officer George Barratt - Peter Wight Amy - Celia Imrie

More Film

  • Matt Damon and Tom McCarthy Team

    Matt Damon Teams with 'Spotlight' Director Tom McCarthy on New Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    Even as buzz grows for his upcoming race car drama “Ford v. Ferrari,” Matt Damon looks to keep the pedal to the metal: the A-lister is set to star in the Participant Media feature film “Stillwater” with Tom McCarthy directing. Damon attached himself in May, and the package was quickly acquired by Participant, who previously [...]

  • US actor Kevin Spacey (C) is

    Kevin Spacey Shouldn't Be Exonerated in Hollywood Even as Criminal Case Ends (Column)

    The news that criminal charges against Kevin Spacey in the Nantucket groping case have been dropped raises an inevitable question: does this mean he can claw his way back into Hollywood’s good graces? Or maybe more importantly: should it?  Spacey’s rapid descent was startling, even as it quickly followed that of the once untouchable producing [...]

  • Movie Ticket Subscriptions

    As MoviePass Fades, Theaters Fall In Love With Subscription Services

    MoviePass may be cratering, but movie theater subscriptions are here to stay. AMC and Cinemark already operate their own online ticketing services. And by the end of July, Regal Entertainment is expected to unveil a subscription plan for customers accustomed to getting all manner of entertainment for a monthly fee. With ticket sales down more [...]

  • This photo shows composer Hans Zimmer

    Hans Zimmer on Recreating Iconic Score: 'The Lion King' 'Brought People Together'

    Composer Hans Zimmer is seated at the mixing board at the Sony scoring stage, head bobbing to the music being performed by 107 musicians just a few yards away. He’s wearing a vintage “Lion King World Tour” T-shirt, frayed at the collar. On the giant screen behind the orchestra, two lions are bounding across the [...]

  • Lion King merchandise

    'The Lion King': Disney Targets Nostalgic Adults With High-End Merchandise

    Does Nala wear lipstick? Probably not, but “Lion King” fans can celebrate the release of the live-action remake with a new line of makeup that’s part of a whole pride of other items themed to Disney’s live action redo. For about $40, the Can’t Wait to Be Queen eyeshadow palette by Luminess Cosmetics includes shades [...]

  • 'Cats' Movie Trailer: Watch Taylor Swift,

    'Cats' Trailer Drops: Watch Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson in Movie Musical

    Universal has released the first trailer for its film adaptation of the Broadway play, “Cats,” starring Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson and James Corden. Based on the book “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot, the musical follows the Jellicle cats, a family of felines who go before the group’s leader Old Deuteronomy to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content