Friday October 1, 1999
It is entirely possible that a movie more unpleasant than "Plunkett & Macleane" will open in the roughly three months prior to the year 2000, but you wouldn't want to put money on it.
Working Title Films, the generally sane British production company behind "My Beautiful Laundrette," "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Dead Man Walking," has obviously banked a lot of sterling on this dark, noisy and nasty tale of debauchery in 18th century England.
"Trainspotting" cohorts Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller reunite to play a pair of formerly respectable citizens turned coach robbers.
Will Plunkett (Carlyle) is a wily, lower-class rascal, a onetime apothecary who teams up with the well-bred James Macleane (the inspiration for "The Threepenny Opera's" Macheath, played by Miller) to plunder from the wealthy. Their daytime seductions and nocturnal robberies pit them in the middle of a power struggle between the Lord Chief Justice Gibson (Michael Gambon) and the fiendishly corrupt Chance (Ken Stott), a cad in Puritan's clothing who is hell-bent on bringing the pair down.
The two rogues are cheered on and abetted by hedonist extraordinaire Lord Rochester (Alan Cumming) and Gibson's comely niece, Lady Rebecca (a ravishing and dull Liv Tyler), a vixen at heart who falls for Macleane's charms.
Everyone else in the film is so creepy and unpalatable that Plunkett and Macleane become heroes by default. Writers Robert Wade, Neal Purvis and Charles McKeown have created a British Tourist Authority's nightmare of olde London, teeming with squalid prisons, unctuous gaming parlors and surly residents.
Stereotypes take a holiday: The upper-crust preen insufferably, homosexuals wear heavy makeup, and the French ambassador quaffs cognac with a gun to his temple while grousing about how foreigners mutilate his language. First-time director Jake Scott tarts up these tired conventions with pointedly anachronistic rock music and editing that is so quick on the draw you spend the first 10 minutes wondering who is doing what to whom, where they are doing it and whether you should care.
Everything is stunningly photographed by John Mathieson, but to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a cockroach is a cockroach is a cockroach.
Plunkett & Macleane, 1999. R for some strong violence, sexuality and language. Gramercy Pictures presents, in association with the Arts Council of England, a Working Title Production. Director Jake Scott. Producers Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Rupert Harvey. Executive producers Gary Oldman & Douglas Urbanski, Selwyn Roberts and Matthew Stillman. Screenplay by Robert Wade & Neal Purvis and Charles McKeown, based on an original screenplay by Selwyn Roberts. Director of photography John Mathieson. Editor Oral Norrie Ottey. Costume designer Janty Yates. Music Craig Armstrong. Production designer Norris Spencer. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. Robert Carlyle as Will Plunkett. Jonny Lee Miller as James Macleane. Alan Cumming as Lord Rochester. Liv Tyler as Lady Rebecca Gibson. Michael Gambon as Lord Chief Justice Gibson.