Movie Review By Casey McCabe
"Plunkett & MaCleane" is that rollicking feelgood Western a lot of us have been waiting for. There's just a few things you have to get past. The time is the mid-1700s when the American West was pretty much Pennsylvania. Which doesn't matter anyway since the whole film takes place in England. The Cowboys are called Highwaymen. The indigenous peoples are powdered-wig wearing fops and dandies. Frankly there's more open homosexuality than wide open spaces. And oh yeah. That modern techno hip-hop music on the soundtrack? I don't know what that's all about. But trust me, everything works better than you might expect.
The film is based on the true story of two gentlemen bandits who charmed and terrorized 18th Century England. It reunites "Trainspotting" stars Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller in the title roles. Carlyle, who was pure malice in "Trainspotting" and hard-luck charm in "The Full Monty" basically splits the difference here as Plunkett, an unusually clever underclass criminal who just wants to redistribute enough wealth to buy himself a ticket to America. Miller as Macleane, is his initially reluctant partner, handsome and well-bred enough to move in the social circles most worth robbing, but undisciplined enough to have landed himself in one of Britain's horrific debtor's prisons. It's a partnership of convenience, the basis of any good buddy movie.
The pretty girl -- of course there's a pretty girl -- is Lady Rebecca Gibson, played by Liv Tyler. She's got everything a Lady could want. So naturally she's out looking for trouble, which she finds in Plunkett & MaCleane, but mostly in the dangerously smitten MaCleane. The rest of the cast is a veritable Shakespeare Repertory Troupe, including that incurable British ham Michael Gambon as Lady Rebecca's corrupt uncle, the Lord Chief Justice. Having the most fun throughout the film is Alan Cumming as the flamboyantly debauched Lord Rochester, who, as he dishily admits swings EVERY way.
"Plunkett & MaCleane" is the first feature from director Jake Scott, coming from a career in advertising and music videos. You may want to slap him in the beginning when he seems obsessed with chaotic cuts and dramatically underlit scenes. But the modern eye and ear he brings to this period piece, along with goodly amounts of British cheek, is genuinely refreshing.
So wait. Where's the Western in all this? Make no mistake, this is a movie about good outlaws and bad sheriffs, high noon gunfights and hangman's nooses, treasures to be claimed and scores to be settled. And the purty gal caught in the middle. Just think Lord Cassidy and the Sundance Rogue. You'll get the picture.
© 1999 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 9/29/99
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