I have to admit I have a soft spot for sports movies. Yes they are often formulaic, logically flawed and have endings which you can see coming from miles away, but Raging Bull, The Hustler, Chariots of Fire and even Slap Shot are among my favourite all time films. However, when such films go wrong they tend to do so spectacularly. A wee while ago I wrote about 2000’s A Shot at Glory, (see You Have Been Watching…A Shot at Glory.) which starred Robert Duvall, Michael Keaton, current Glasgow Rangers’ manager Ally McCoist and many of the Airdrie team of the same year. I suggested that, although there was some unintended entertainment to be had, this was was a contender for the title of ‘the worst film ever made in Scotland’. Then, in an online conversation, someone mentioned The Match.
Released in 1999, The Match is a film that passed me by, which surprised me. It’s set in Scotland, it’s about football, and a quick look at the IMDB showed me that it promised performances from Ian Holm, Tom Sizemore, Pierce Brosnan and Scots Whay Hae! favourites Laura Fraser, James Cosmo, Gary Lewis, Bill Patterson and David Hayman. How could I have not heard about this film, even if it was straight to DVD? Further reading hinted at the reason. It also boasts in its cast the talents of Neil Morrisey, Max Beasley, Jonathan Watson (a great mimic, but no actor), Alan Shearer!! and Samantha Fox. Then there is the enigma who is Richard E.Grant.
Grant will always be known to film fans as ‘Withnail’, one of recent cinema’s greatest comic/tragic creations, but his subsequent career has proven that this was a glorious fluke. Grant has managed to carve out a successful career despite the absence of anything approaching acting in his repertoire. To try and be fair he has been in some real stinkers since Withnail and I, but even when given a decent script Rich is reliably terrible. I think he has missed his calling as his memoir With Nails: The Film Diaries of Richard E. Grant is hilariously catty and indiscreet. It is also very well written, recalling his time as Withnail, that spent with the roadshow that was Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, when he was rubbing shoulders with Keanu, Winona, Sadie and Gary Oldman with old lady hair, and his time filming legendary turkey Hudson Hawk. If you haven’t seen it, it is one of the most nuts films of all time. Bruce Willis plays the titular Hawk, a catburglar who times his raids by singing old show tunes, Sandra Bernhard appears as a gangster’s moll, the love interest is Andie MacDowell (need I say more) and yet Mr Grant still manages to be worse than anyone around. It’s quite a talent. Still, the book’s definitely worth a read.
I digress, but only to emphasise to you just how awful he is in The Match. It’s not simply the accent, which is impossibly poor for someone who does this for a living, it’s the whole performance. He pouts, flounces, rages, emotes and schemes like someone who has not only never done this before, but never considered what acting actually involves. If this was a one-off I would suggest that it was an attempt to sabotage the film but that would lend him far too much credit. When he is on-screen even the dogs in the street are laughing at him.
Not every performance in The Match is terrible though, in fact that’s at the heart of the film’s problem. It’s a game of two halves. David O’Hara has a curious cameo as the mechanic in a flying helmet who proclaims, in the most deadpan manner, what excites him. Bill Patterson is as charismatic as ever and has a wonderful teacher/mentor relationship with Iain Robertson. Ian Holm is far too good for fare such as this and Tom Sizemore copes well with his character Buffalo, a heartbroken US serviceman who has never made it home. It’s a role that could have been an awful stereotype but Sizemore ensures that never happens. In fact there is a lot of loss and sadness in the background of this film which could have taken things in a different and more interesting direction, but all subtlety is thrown aside as ‘the match’ approaches and every cliché of the genre is ticked along the way.
Here’s the trailer, which is, in keeping with the film, ludicrous in that it gives the whole plot away, including the surprise ending. If The Match comes on the telly sometime it’s worth a gander to see some great actors struggling to make sense out of what they are being asked to do, and some not so great just struggling. But since you are unlikely to watch the whole film (the things I do on your behalf) this tells you all you need to know:
The real shame about The Match is that there has got to be a great Scottish sports movie to be made (if you know of one then please tell me about it. Even a half decent one would be a start, and no, Gregory’s Girl doesn’t count.) Whether you like sport or not you have to admit that there are times when it brings out the best and worst in people, and the potential for successful drama is undoubtedly there.