You know, if there was one important thing missing from “American Me” or HBO’s “Oz”, I’d have to say it would be musical production numbers. Now, we no longer have to feel deprived as director Peter Cattaneo finally follows up his success with “The Full Monty” with quite possibly the silliest prison picture, ever.
Jimmy Hands (James Nesbitt) and his best friend Rudy (Lennie James) have usually proven incompetent at petty crime, and a spectacularly failed attempt at armed bank robbery only nets them a lengthy sentence. Once Jimmy is eventually transferred into the same prison as Rudy, he only finds his old pal still mad the panicked Jimmy tried (but also failed) to run out on him during their botched bank job.
Still, the pair do find one thing to bond over, an escape. Each does his part, too. Rudy figures out the weakest point in the complex is the old prison chapel, long out of use. It’s then up to Jimmy to come up with a way for them to get in there. His master plan? Well, the warden (Christopher Plummer) is a big musical fan, and his written his own titled, “Nelson: The Musical”. Now all Jimmy has to do is convince enough of his fellow inmates to help him put on a show.
Well, the simple plan becomes a lot more complicated as Jimmy is cast in the lead, slowly falls in love with his co-star, anger management instructor Annabel (Olivia Williams of Rushmore and The Sixth Sense), and is threatened by a newly arrived thug from another prison. Oh well, the show must go on.
I guess this is one way to score a PG-13 on a prison flick. Overall, it’s good, not great. This is a pleasant enough but small English romantic comedy. Sure, the other inmates are a colorful lot, particularly Timothy Spall and Bill Nighy, and the big production at the end is entertaining. Still, the whole thing could have gone to another level with a little Coen Brothers or Tarantino craziness… , WAIT A SECOND! I know what this picture needed, GEORGE CLOONEY! This is like a George Clooney movie with George Clooney. Think about it. On most of George’s successful cinematic outings, he’s either breaking out of jail (“From Dusk Till Dawn”, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Out of Sight) or at least being released (Ocean’s Eleven). Even in Three Kings he was planning a big caper and in The Perfect Storm his behavior was kind of criminal. Take those films off of his resume and you’re left with “Batman and Robin” and “Peacemaker”. He has not yet, however, done a full-on prison movie. Wouldn’t one with a little romance, and a little song-and-dance, have been perfect? Well, that and maybe a little manlove with cellmate Brad Pitt, wait, I’m thinking of “American Me” again, so forget everything I said. Anyhoo, all I can say is that this is the first prison epic I’ve seen that might actually make a decent date flick. You never know when the need might come up.