Plunkett & Macleane
Stand and Deliver
by Devin D. O'Leary

October 7 - October 13, 1999

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There's more flourish than polish in Jake (son of Ridley) Scott's first feature effort. Like dear old dad (director of such eye candy classics as Alien, Blade Runner and Legend), Jake Scott has a taste for rich visuals and glossy cinematography. Jake also borrows a page or two from uncle Tony Scott (director of such goofball popcorn classics as Top Gun, Days of Thunder and Beverly Hills Cop II), landing a story that reads like the average summertime crowd-pleaser. The result is pretty but predictable -- like a Merchant/Ivory film funded by MTV. Still, it's hard not to fall for this rousing tale of romantic British highwaymen. I mean, who doesn't like romantic British highwaymen -- especially when they're so dashingly thesped by the likes of Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle?

Englishmen all seem to have this inborn preoccupation with their own history. At one point or another, every British director has to helm some costume drama that allows him to wallow in the darkest, dirtiest days of British history. Jake Scott at least gets it out of his system early in his career. With Plunkett & Macleane, he gives us one of those grubby, greasy, pox-covered, horse poop-filled portraits of merry olde England that make Monty Python so proud.

It's the mid-18th century, then. London's teeming with the foppish rich and the grubby poor, and Trainspotting stars Miller and Carlyle have been reunited to engage in more cinematic mischief. Jonny Lee Miller is James Macleane, a well-born but penniless British captain. Robert Carlyle is Will Plunkett, an ex-apothecary-turned-robber. Through circumstances involving a stolen ruby, a buried corpse and the English constabulary, Plunkett and Macleane find themselves sharing a cell at Newgate prison. After buying their way to freedom, the two engage in a "gentleman's agreement" of sorts. Macleane will use his social contacts to gather information on all the rich London socialites. Plunkett with then use the information to relieve said socialites of their jewelry and coinage. In return, Plunkett will fund Macleane's return to social standing, allowing the cycle to continue.

Posing as a rich man and his valet, our cinematic antiheroes soon prove quite adept at the robbing game. Before long, Macleane has taken to the mask-and-pistol bit like an old hand, and the duo are adorning "wanted" posters all over London. Flustered young women are soon clamoring to reveal their "hidden jewels" to these mysterious gentlemen bandits, while local law enforcement screams for their necks in a noose.

When you've got a movie about criminals, you've usually got to make it palatable to upstanding mainstream audiences by doing one of two things: 1) including a love interest, or 2) adding a villain so nasty that the criminals look nice in comparison. Plunkett & Macleane manages both. Before long, our Adam Ant wannabes have crossed paths with Liv (daughter of Steven) Tyler. Of course, she's the intended love interest, a scrappy, rebellious society gal who collects "gentlemen bandit" newspaper clippings like so many Backstreet Boys posters. Naturally, she catches the eye of the evil Thief Taker General (Ken Stott), a balding, apoplectic type who's been charged with catching our titular bandits.

Plunkett & Macleane's main problem is that its script (by frequent Terry Gilliam collaborator Charles McKeown) is so damnably predictable. All the requisite swashbuckling elements are in place -- right down to the climactic "Will he or won't he be rescued from the hangman's noose?" cliffhanger. The romance, the action, the plot twists: They all come with such a predictable cadence. Fortunately, Plunkett & Macleane doesn't take itself too seriously. Everyone involved is more interested in making a lusty adventure tale than a serious period piece (as the film's booming techno soundtrack will attest). In the end, Plunkett & Macleane emerges as an entertaining, self-consciously hip lark -- the English equivalent of American kids playing soldier and growing up to make Kelly's Heroes.

Plunkett & Macleane
Directed by Jake Scott
Starring Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Liv Tyler
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