Plunkett And Macleane

on October 01, 1999 by Wade Major
   "Transpotting" alums Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle reunite in the intermittently interesting "Plunkett and Macleane," a flashy, offbeat and wildly uneven period adventure that also marks the feature directing debut of Ridley Scott's son, Jake, a successful music video and commercial director in his own right.
   Loosely based on the exploits of two real-life 18th-century highwaymen, the film is basically an attempt to spin a bawdy, raucous English version of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"--an action/comedy centering on likable outlaws fighting the establishment and somehow managing to stay one step ahead of the hangman's noose. A rather nasty chance meeting initially pairs veteran robber Plunkett (Carlyle) with aspiring dandy Macleane (Miller) after police, led by ruthless enforcer Chance (Ken Stott), kill Plunkett's previous partner. Himself a former apothecary, Plunkett shrewdly appeals to Macleane's frustrations at being kept on the fringe of upper-class society, convincing him that rather than waiting indefinitely to win their favor, his aristocratic connections would be better put to use for the purpose of theft.
   Ensuing adventures are generally entertaining, sustained primarily by Miller's and Carlyle's chemistry and comic timing. Supporting performances are likewise engaging, most notably Liv Tyler in a surprisingly convincing turn as the proto-feminist Lady Rebecca, an English noblewoman whose romantic involvement with Macleane helps up the proverbial ante. Other standouts include the always-wonderful Alan Cumming in a scene-stealing turn as the very gay Lord Rochester, an unlikely friend to the outlaws through whom he is able to vicariously live out his own adventuresome fantasies.
   But "Plunkett and Macleane" is also an annoyingly flawed film, a bizarre hybrid of styles and sensibilities that never really coalesce into anything more substantial than a curiosity. The occasional interjection of techno music and such gimmicks as undercranked photography are cases in point--a distracting throwback to the style of "Angry Young Men" directors like Tony Richardson, whose heavily-dated 1963 Oscar winner seems to be a particularly strong influence.
   While the resurgence of "Angry Young Man" style-splicing has managed to work to the advantage of a number of recent English comedies ("Trainspotting" and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" among them), it's noticeably misplaced in "Plunkett and Macleane," which is never able to make the approach mesh with its equally uneven script, wrought by an overly crowded kitchen of writers that includes "Brazil" co-author Charles McKeown. Still, despite the film's myriad flaws, the young Scott does seem to possess a certain flair that should better manifest itself with time as he is able to assert his own voice without simultaneously trying to prove that he is, indeed, his father's son. Starring Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Liv Tyler, Alan Cumming and Michael Gambon. Directed by Jake Scott. Written by Robert Wade & Neal Purvis and Charles McKeown. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Rupert Harvey. A USA release. Adventure. Rated R for some strong violence, sexuality and language. Running time: 111 min
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