You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.

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


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

  • Emma Thompson

    Emma Thompson Exits Skydance Animation Movie 'Luck' Over John Lasseter Hire

    Emma Thompson has dropped out of the voice cast of Skydance Animation’s upcoming film “Luck,” a spokesperson for the actress told Variety. The beloved British star did some recording for the project, but dropped out in January, following John Lasseter’s hire to the top animation job at David Ellison’s studio, an insider close to the [...]

  • Daniel Kaluuya Lakeith Stanfield

    Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield in Talks to Star in Film About Black Panther Party Leader

    Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield are in negotiations to star in the historical drama “Jesus Was My Homeboy” about Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton. The project is set up at Warner Bros. with “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler producing along with Charles King through his Marco production company. Executive producers are Sev Ohanian, Zinzi [...]

  • Watch First Trailer for Motley Crue

    Watch First Trailer for Motley Crue Biopic 'The Dirt'

    Netflix has dropped the first trailer for its Motley Crue biopic “The Dirt” — based on Neil Strauss’ best-selling history of the legendarily bad-behaved ‘80s metal icons — and it looks like the film pulls no punches in terms of the band’s famously sordid history. In this two-minute trailer, we get glimpses of singer Vince [...]

  • ‘Tomorrow and Thereafter,’ ‘Diane Has the

    MyFrenchFilmFestival Prizes ‘Tomorrow and Thereafter,’ ‘Diane Has the Right Shape’

    Actress-director Noémie Lvovsky’s “Tomorrow And Thereafter,” a heartfelt homage to the director’s own mother, and Fabien Gorgeart’s “Diane Has the Right Shape,” about one woman’s surrogate motherhood, both won big at the 2019 UniFrance MyFrenchFilmFestival which skewed female in its winners and viewership, making particularly notable inroads into South East Asia and Latin America. Opening [...]

  • Vue International Chief Slams BAFTA For

    Vue International Chief Slams BAFTA for Awarding Prizes to 'Roma'

    Tim Richards, the founder and chief executive of Vue International, one of the largest cinema chains in Europe, has slammed the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for awarding prizes to Netflix’s “Roma.” Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white film, which is also up for several Oscars, won four BAFTAs at the awards ceremony in London on [...]

  • Oscars Ultimate Party Guide

    Oscar's Ultimate Party Guide 2019

    Welcome to Oscar week. It’s the time of year when Hollywood’s film industry celebrates all things movies. But it’s certainly not just the big show everyone is looking forward to. More Reviews Film Review: Keira Knightley in 'The Aftermath' Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink' With voting closed, it’s all about the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content