ThinkMovies: Schemers

ThinkMovies: Schemers

by Alan Grant
article from Thursday 1, October, 2020

FRIENDS, I try to keep my opinions, and the way I arrive at them, as original as possible in these weekly deep dives into the movies. I like to think that such regular readers as I might have come to ThinkMovies for my own take on whichever picture we’re talking about and are content to do so. This is not to say that I consider myself some kind of movie-goer maverick but I do try to stand on the strengths and weaknesses of my own take and, usually, I think I succeed in doing so. 

However, this week is slightly different because my take on Schemers, writer and director, Dave Mclean’s, depiction of his own life as a music promoter in Dundee at the tail end of the 1970s, is based largely on someone else’s take on an entirely different movie. When Dave’s promising football career is abruptly ended as a result of an injury he turns to getting bands to perform in the City of Discovery and finds himself in hock to the local gangland boss. When the stakes rise, Dave and his motley crew of pals must stage the biggest gig of their short careers… which, sadly for those of us who enjoy irony, doesn’t include the band, Motley Crew.  

Now, I’m going to have to ask you to bear with me on this because the take I have in mind to take-off from is… Mark Kermode’s review of Mamma Mia! Yes, the Abba film based on the musical juggernaut! 

While the review, aired on Kermode’s show on BBC Radio 5 Live which he hosts with cuddly and charming Simon Mayo, runs to twelve minutes, the rubric is pretty simply. Kermode argues that while Mamma Mia! is not a great movie, specifically citing the “wooden” performances and poor direction, the strength of its source material, in this case the music of the Swedish pop icons, is more than enough to push the film through “the wall” and, even with the drag effect of Piers Bronson’s ‘singing’ and Colin Firth’s ‘dancing’, to make the film great. It is essentially the story of the quality of one aspect of the movie being strong enough to overwhelm the critical faculties and touch a critic in the soft, gooey, film buff centre we all have (but pretend we don’t).  

It is this essential and sufficient success that Schemers shares with Mamma Mia! 

Much of what Schemers does fails. The script isn’t great, full of clunky lines and ‘end of the pier’ jokes, the direction is sloppy and in dire need of a cruel editor, the pacing is a bit off (the final act of the movie, and its triumphant conclusion, is particularly rushed), and the overall feel of it is of a film cut to the bone. While the actors themselves, particularly Conor Berry as Davie, Sean Connor as wacky, dope-dealing, sidekick Scot, and Tara Lee as love interest Shona all do pretty well, it often doesn’t feel like they’re given enough room to move before rushing hastily to the next plot point. Blair Robertson and Mingus Johnston are fun as the gangland henchmen but are a bit too silly to take seriously.  

If there is a performance problem in the film, it’s that of Alastair Thomson Mills as gang boss Fergie. Mills is, as shown by his role in The Wee Man, a talented actor but his showing here is pretty listless and is missing his signature sense of threat. Once again, I suspect the short run time, a mere hour and a half is given to this ambitious story, is to blame. Mills’ record as a performer shows he could have done well if given some flexing room – sadly, he isn’t in Schemers

But, even with all the above criticisms, the quantity of which would normally kick me right out of a film, I really liked Schemers and recommend it, especially to a Scottish audience. 

Schemers is an example of what happens when someone tells a story they know inside out, using actors who are clearly enjoying themselves, and using techniques that imbue the picture with authenticity, an underdog spirit, and a sense of ambition and zeal that are impossible to resist. 

In the same way as Kermode correctly identified that Mamma Mia! is made up of ridiculous, often poorly crafted, bits that, due to the strength of the music on which it is based, come together to make an emotionally resonant and fun movie – Schemers does this on the strength of its story. I could not help but be invested in Davie’s story and that of his pals as they strive to make something better out of themselves and I defy anyone else not to feel the same.  

Fundamentally, to crib another point from the slick backed cinema expert, good movies make you feel something and Schemers does that superbly. It might not be much when broken down to its bits, but the whole is so much greater than the sum of them. Check this one out! 

Alan Grant, our resident ThinkMovies critic, can be found here with a new review every Thursday evening. @alangrantuk #thinkmovies    

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