The Match

on August 01, 2008 by Wade Major
   Despite almost plagiaristic similarities to the recent French-Canadian smash "Les Boys," first-time writer/director Mick Davis' "The Match" manages to forge a delightful identity of its own, distinguishing itself with homespun charm, savvy writing and the most colorful cast of Anglo-Gaelic characters since "The Full Monty."
   In the remote pastoral village of Inverdoune, Scotland, a bizarre century-old wager is about to be settled between the town's only two pubs: Benny's Bar and its upscale rival, Le Bistro. In the madness of their ancient feud, the original owners bet that if Benny's could win only one of their acrimonious annual amateur soccer matches over the course of the next hundred years, Le Bistro would forfeit ownership. If not, Benny's would belong to Le Bistro.
   Amazingly, what once seemed impossible now seems entirely probable. After 99 consecutive losses and facing what may well be their strongest opposition ever, Benny's is on the verge of making statistical history. As the fateful day draws near, Benny's and its loyal patrons find themselves subjected to increasingly mean-spirited taunting from Le Bistro's insatiably narcissistic owner, Gorgeous Gus (Richard E. Grant), a former professional soccer player who brazenly brags of his plans to bulldoze the bar to make room for his own personal parking lot. But all is not entirely lost. What Benny's team lacks in skill, it makes up for in passion. And in the person of milkman Wullie Smith--a young cripple renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge of the sport--it has a formidable secret weapon.
   Like the best sports films, "The Match" is ultimately less about the game and its outcome than the personal journeys of those involved, particularly Smith. While physical handicaps keep him from playing the game he loves, so also do emotional handicaps keep him from growing close to the woman he loves (Laura Fraser), parallel challenges that converge as the fateful match date grows near.
   That "The Match" so closely mirrors the plot of the Quebecois hockey comedy "Les Boys" will undoubtedly be a problem for viewers fortunate enough to have seen the Canadian film. Fortunately, it is not plot but character that lies at the heart of "The Match," an endearing ensemble of misfits, has-beens and could-have-beens whose collective spirit promises to make the film one of the year's more popular independent successes.
   Bonuses for more savvy fans include cameos by '80s pop icon Samantha Fox and Sky Sports personality Andy Gray, as well as a variety of slick in-references to soccer's illustrious history.    Starring Max Beeley, Laura Fraser, Richard E. Grant, Ian Holm, Tom Sizemore and Gary McCormack. Directed by Mick Davis. Written by Mick Davis. Produced by Guyman Cassady, Steve Golin, Allan Scott. A USA release. Comedy. Running time: 95 min.
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