With only the sparingly used Liv Tyler as a marquee name, the USA Films release seems destined for a quick heave onto the rubbish pile of bad ideas that were made into particularly noxious final products. The blame for this one doesn't fall on the talented performers but rather the filmmaking team led by Jake Scott (son of director Tony Scott), making his feature debut after directing music videos and commercials.
A dismal attempt to transplant the buddy action movie into an age of flintlocks and stagecoaches, portraying two real-life criminals in England some 250 years ago, "Plunkett & Macleane" is not funny, sexy or bloody enough by several degrees. Leads Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller seek but rarely come close to finding a balance between tolerable period characterizations and shameless pandering to modern audience expectations.
While not exactly the stuff of "Braveheart", the source material about "gentleman highwayman" James Macleane (Miller) and his low-class partner Will Plunkett (Carlyle) is ripe with opportunities to make a solid period drama with action, romance, comedy and politics -- say "Barry Lyndon" sped up a little, but not too much. Scott, three screenwriters and seven producers and executive producers (including actor Gary Oldman and original scribe Selwyn Roberts) have instead made another slick, soulless costumer in the same minor league as "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and the most recent "The Three Musketeers".
The movie swings both ways -- like one of its most lively major characters does in a sexual way (Alan Cumming's prissy Lord Rochester) -- between the central duo getting the treatment of rebel rockers and the truncated storytelling that embroils them in an intrigue involving one of their victims, the Lord Chief Justice Gibson (Michael Gambon). Some hope briefly emerges when the important man's niece, Lady Rebecca Tyler), gets Macleane all excited and determined to enter high society. Now if he can just stop himself from donning a mask and wolfishly robbing the rich at gunpoint.
But even the sexy stuff is rushed, while another blaring example of the filmmakers' cheerful use of cliches is the villain, lawman Chance (Ken Stott). He's cruel and merciless and out to bust the daring lads, but he also has a role in deadly political schemes that could hardly be less involving or more sketchily dealt with. Even the finale involving an execution and running fight through the sewers is momentarily rousing at best.
The would-be star of the movie is clearly Scott, and his pump-it-up approach to the milieu includes rapid-fire editing, extremely poor choices in music and frequently working the actors into a sweat, but all to little avail. The story of "Plunkett & Macleane" seems primarily to be an excuse for reinventing the history of fashion and unleashing antique ballistics in scenes of silly, overblown violence.
PLUNKETT & MACLEANE
Gramercy Pictures presents
in association with the Arts Council of England
A Working Title production
Director: Jake Scott
Screenplay: Robert Wade, Neal Purvis, Charles McKeown
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Rupert Harvey
Executive producers: Gary Oldman, Douglas Urbanski, Selwyn Roberts, Matthew Stillman
Director of photography: John Mathieson
Production designer: Norris Spencer
Editor: Oral Norrie Ottey
Costumes: Janty Yates
Music: Craig Armstrong
Casting: Jina Jay
James Macleane: Jonny Lee Miller
Will Plunkett: Robert Carlyle
Lady Rebecca Gibson: Liv Tyler
Lord Rochester: Alan Cumming
Chance: Ken Stott
Lord Chief Justice Gibson: Michael Gambon
Running time -- 101 minutes
MPAA rating: R