leave a comment --Ken Fox
Director Peter Cattaneo reworks the formula that made THE FULL MONTY a smashing success unlikely geezers take to the stage and hilarity ensues but neglects to add the magic that made it all work. This time around, the geezers in question are inmates at England's Long Rudford Prison, headed by Jimmy Hands (James Nesbitt), a luckless Irishman who got caught trying to rob a bank with his childhood friend, Rudy (Lennie James). Having served three years of his 12-year sentence at Wormwood Scrubs, Jimmy is transferred to Long Ruford, where he's reunited with Rudy who's still (understandably) pissed at Jimmy for ditching him at the scene of the crime and tossed into a cell with goodhearted loser Cliff (Timothy Spall), where he immediately concocts an escape plan. Noting prison governor Graham Mortimer's (Christopher Plummer) fondness for musical comedy, Jimmy convinces him to reintroduce the grand tradition of staging plays in the prison's Old Chapel the only point in the entire prison, Jimmy's told, from which a successful escape might be possible. The governor agrees, and can think of no better choice of material than his own "Nelson: The Musical," an operetta based on the life and death of Admiral Lord Nelson. And who better to play the venerable one-armed, one-eyed admiral than Jimmy? The plan is for Jimmy, Rudy and two cohorts (Bill Nighy, Raymond Waring) to make their escape as the performance draws to a close much like the Von Trapp children but two unforeseen complications develop: Jimmy's growing affection for Annabel Sweep (Olivia Williams), the prison therapist who, as the only woman on the block, is pressed into playing Lady Hamilton to Jimmy's Nelson, and the unexpected arrival of John Toombes (Frank Harper), a bad penny from Jimmy's past who not only demands a part in the play, but in the escape well. The set-up is fine, but Cattaneo stumbles on the follow-through: The escape is poorly plotted and the performance of "Nelson" which, like the climactic strip in THE FULL MONTY, should be the comedic payoff of the whole thing is so God awful it's truly painful to watch. Cliff's sad fate is as predictable as it is contrived, and the good times feel forced as well; neither the appealing cast nor the bouncing, ska-inflected soundtrack can keep the party going.