Movie Review: Mike Bassett is the real Magic Mike
After reviewing the FIFA-funded cringefest that is United Passions, I was asked to do a series of soccer-related movie reviews. Fantastic, a chance to share the wonders of movies surrounding the beautiful game. Actually, more of an opportunity to show our American readers that the Goal trilogy was rubbish, and that there is so much better out there!
With the FIFA Women’s World Cup drawing to a close, as the United States sealed a third championship (Wow, American athletes that earned the title ‘World Champions’ by playing a sport against teams from more than one country! - Sorry, it had to be said), I wanted to keep the World Cup theme going.
English football is known for many things. The stereotypical hard man, insanely talented players that couldn’t say no to a beer…or the seven tequilas that preceded it.
We’re known for producing terrible managers, and players that can make 50-yard passes for their clubs, but put the Three Lions on their chest and they turn into a group of children aimlessly chasing the ball. We have old men overseeing a game that they have been out of touch with for decades, and journalists that live to psychologically destroy the people they cover.
What would be more English than to make a mockumentary about all of that!
Steve Barron directing a movie about soccer is certainly a big change from his previous work on the 1990 version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Coneheads. Barron was also responsible for the half-sketched video for A-Ha’s Take On Me. It’s certainly interesting that he took on an independent comedy, and one without Lorne Michaels and Dan Ackroyd’s comedic genius.
Mike Bassett certainly went down well with viewers, even if it only got mixed reviews. The production is intentionally corny, but brilliant. Norwich’s local TV station and anchor were used, but with a comedy twist.
Former Newcastle midfielder, Barry Venison, and sports presenter, Gabby Logan, play completely over the top versions of themselves. The World Cup’s TV presentation is given an exaggerated appearance, an Americanized title and the odd technical hitch.
Pelé has a cameo role, with some brilliant moments surrounding interviews, so as to avoid him having to try his hand at acting (Like Escape to Victory).
Mike Bassett: England Manager is set as a documentary, following the fortunes of the England team in the run-up to the 2002 World Cup in Brazil.
Martin Bashir, shortly before the Michael Jackson interview that would turn him into a household name, starts things off with the news that Phil Cope has suffered a heart attack, and has had to step down as England Manager. We join the Football Association board, a group of old doddering men that are more interested in chocolate eclairs than football, discussing the options for the next England manager.
After it’s revealed that no-one wants the job in the Premier League or abroad, the board find themselves appointing a lower-league manager in Norwich City’s Mike Bassett. Bassett describes himself as an old fashioned manager, writing his team on the back of a cigarette packet and firmly sticking to a 4-4-2 formation.
Ricky Tomlinson is fantastic as the hapless, and often foul-mouthed, England boss. His half-time team talk in the Mexico game is something that anyone who has laced up a pair of boots will appreciate. His old fashioned methods lead to a few hilarious moments along the way, which I’m desperately trying not to provide too much information on, for the benefit of those who will watch the film and not want the jokes or storyline ruined.
Bashir also spends a lot of time with Bassett’s wife, Karine, and son, Jason. Amanda Redman plays the WAG role well, a large change from her usual crime dramas. The pair feel the pressure as Mike and the England team struggle through qualifying, with Jason the victim of bullies. Bassett is assisted by Dave Dodds and Lonnie Urquart. Dodds is a stereotypical ‘yes man’, played by former footballer-turned-comedian, Bradley Walsh. Urquart is the polar opposite, turning his back on the game to sell used cars and viewing the world with a very narrow mind.
The movie follows Bassett’s struggles maintaining the team, starring his Paul Gascoigne-esque star player that is more often found in the pub than the gym.
Kevin ‘Tonka’ Tonkinson, played by Dean Lennox Kelly, is the lovable Geordie that wants to play for his country more than anything, but is more than a sandwich short of a picnic. Then you have a supporting cast including England captain Gary Wackett. Wacko who has been sent off 21 times in 26 games for England. His rage goes as far as to be incarcerated for joining the stereotypical English hooligans in a friendly riot with Brazilian police.
Rufus Smalls is England’s record goalscorer, but couldn’t hit a barn door after missing a vital penalty two years ago. There’s even a David Beckham type in Steve Harper. As well as the players, the movie does poke fun at the old English tradition of recording a World Cup song, and the really bizarre lengths that some managers have gone to in trying to gain an advantage through sports science.
Bassett spends long periods of the film locked in verbal battles with both fans and the media, or just quoting Rudyard Kipling. If you’ve ever wondered about the relationship between the home nations, there’s even a scene that will explain that.
The movie was followed in 2005 by a short series called Mike Bassett: Manager and the sequel, Mike Bassett: Interim Manager, will hit UK cinemas next year.
If you’ve followed the England national team, you will certainly appreciate the gags and feel better about the years of crap we’ve had to endure. If you haven’t, I’d be really interested to know what you think.
There are certainly some parts that will be lost in translation, but this is deadpan British self-depreciative humor at its finest.
“Some jokes may not translate to an American audience, but many said the sport of soccer wouldn’t either”
Dan Crooke, Football.com