Starring: Ricky Tomlinson, Amanda Redman, Bradley Walsh, Phil Jupitus, Martin Bashir
Director: Steve Barron
Ricky Tomlinson continues his move from staple TV shows like “The Royle Family”, “Playing the Field” and “Cocking Off” to the big screen. “Mike Bassett: England Manager” represents his biggest movie yet. He plays Mike Bassett, manager of Divison One team, Norwich City. After leading his club to victory in the Mr Clutch Cup, this old school manager is offered the job of England manager when it becomes clear that no one else wants it.
With three games left in their World Cup qualification program, he needs to win just one of them to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil. Easier said than done. His England squad are a bunch of misfits. Centre back Wacko (Geoff Bell) is a violent 32 year old with more red cards than yellow, his midfield duo of Deano and Danny (John Alford – “Grange Hill”, “London’s Burning” and Dean Holness) are bereft of brain cells, star striker Smallsy (Robbie Gee) hasn’t scored for two years and midfield genius Tonka, has a habit of self-destructing.
His coaching team are not much better. His assistant manager, Lonnie (Philip Jackson), is a used car salesman and coach Dave Dodds (Walsh – TVs “Wheel of Fortune”, “Night and Day”) is the ultimate “yes man”.
The fans are dubious about Bassett as are the media. Tommo Thompson (Jupitus – TVs “Never Mind the Buzzcocks”) is one such reporter, reasonable in his assertions and criticisms but perpetual in his desire to run Bassett out of the job. And there is plenty of ammunition for everyone as the team’s performances go from bad to worse. But will Mike Bassett do the honourable thing and resign?
We keep tabs on Bassett’s progress due to a “fly on the wall” documentary team who follow his every move. The documentary is narrated by Martin Bashir, who many will now recognise as the man who stuck nails in the coffin of Michael Jackson recently.
This is of course very similar to the “Do I Not Like That?” documentary that was produced on former England manager Graham Taylor in the early ninties. And if you look closely you can see that the Dave Dodds character is a parody of his assistant manager, Phil Neal, while the midfield talisman, Tonka, is clearly inspired by Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne.
But aside from all these obvious observations, the question is does “Mike Bassett: England Manager” entertain?
Well, not really. There’s no doubt there are some amusing moments. The scene where the open-top bus (bringing the team through Norwich after the Mr Clutch Cup victory) takes a wrong turn is ultimately one of the best scenes. And Bassett’s team selection goes haywire when his PA calls up everyone in the squad whom he has written on the back of a fag packet. Everyone.
But these moments are few and far between. If it wasn’t for Tomlinson’s superb portrayal of a limited but honest human, the movie would have fallen flat. Tomlinson’s tries to bring some pathos to the character via his relationship with his family and a poetic appeal for calm on live TV. It doesn’t quite work but one can see that it is not his fault.
Irish director Steve Barron (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, “Coneheads” as well as a-ha’s most famous videos such as ‘Take On Me’ and ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’) enjoys the documentary-approach and uses graphics and at times mimics a music video by using two or three different scenes on screen at the one time. It doesn’t really add to much to the movie but he does he best to spice up a flat script.
“Mike Bassett: England Manager” is a time-waster and not a particularly good one at that. It’s watchable, but my advice would be to rent “Fever Pitch” instead.