'Lucky Break'

MoviesEntertainmentJails and PrisonsCrime, Law and JusticeChristopher PlummerJames NesbittLennie James

"Lucky Break" is an amiably engaging British prison comedy with just enough serious shading to set off its humor; it was directed by "The Full Monty's" Peter Cattaneo with the same affection for the vicissitudes of game but feckless men that made the earlier film a hit.

Developed from an idea of Cattaneo into a script by Ronan Bennett, "Lucky Break," however, has a strong enough personality not to be merely a reworking of "Monty," despite certain similarities.

James Nesbitt's Jimmy Hands and Lennie James' Rudy Guscott are lifelong pals who've grown up to be notably inept crooks who blow their one big chance of a major payday and land in a prison run by Christopher Plummer's Graham Mortimer, a decent sort who loves musicals and idolizes Lord Nelson. Jimmy arrives in a defiant mood, but his lot improves when Mortimer discovers that he loves musicals too. Mortimer has been attempting to fuse his twin passions by trying his hand at writing a musical about the hero of the Battle of Trafalgar. Jimmy is swiftly enlisted to help mount an inmate production.

Jimmy has been urged to sign up for an anger management course conducted by the head of the prison support unit, Annabel (Olivia Williams), and it's clear romance is afoot. In the meantime, he's got lots of changes to go through, and there's a plot, which won't be revealed here.

Despite its easy charm, "Lucky Break" doesn't forget that it is set in a prison. The downside of Mortimer's preoccupation with the musical is the obtuseness of a hateful chief guard (Ron Cook); when he is caught in an embarrassing moment by Jimmy's cellmate Cliff (Timothy Spall), there's hell to pay."Nelson the Musical" is amusing, a cheery travesty that boasts a traditional yet appealing love song by Nesbitt and Williams. It strikes just the right note between the amateur and the wistful: Its book and lyrics were written by the estimable Stephen Fry, marvelous actor and wit.

Nesbitt makes a fine leading man, and Plummer misses none of the amusing nuances of Mortimer, so enchanted by his own creation's being brought to a somewhat ragged but vigorous life. Williams and others in key support are also effective. Lightly reflective and consistently entertaining, "Lucky Break" is an easy-to-take diversion.

*

MPAA rating: PG-13, for brief strong language and some sexual references. Times guidelines. suitable for mature older children.

'Lucky Break'

James Nesbitt...Jimmy Hands

Olivia Williams...Annabel

Christopher Plummer...Graham Mortimer

Lennie James...Rudy Guscott

Timothy Spall...Cliff Gumbell

A Paramount Pictures, Miramax Films and Filmfour presentation in association with Senator Film of a Fragile Films-Lucky Break production for Filmfour. Director Peter Cattaneo. Producers Barnaby Thompson and Cattaneo. Executive producers Paul Webster and Hanno Huth. Screenplay by Ronan Bennett. Cinematographer Alwin Kuchler. Editor David Gamble. "Nelson the Musical" book and lyrics by Stephen Fry. Choreographer Nicky Hinkley. Costumes Ffion Elinor. Production designer Max Gottlieb. Art director Andrew Munro. Set decorator Neesh Ruben. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.

Exclusively at the AMC Century City, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., (310) 289-4AMC; the Grove Stadium 14, 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue, (323) 692-0829; and the Criterion, 1313 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica, (310) 248-Mann #019.

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