An energetic trailer and promising premise lead to disappointment in the cinema.
My first film review for this paper was going to be a momentous event. I walked to The Everyman with buoyant optimism, to watch a film that had the look of a Scottish classic. Schemers is based on a true story, set in Dundee, has a bouncing soundtrack, and is meant to emulate Trainspotting. My intrigue was piqued. Could a film released in this Covid-ravaged era really be as good as an all-time classic? Beware the seductive power of the movie trailer.
The story follows Davie (Connor Berry), Scot (Sean Connor), and John (Grant Robert Keelan) as they attempt to make it in the gig industry and avoid getting pasted by the local heavies. Try as they might, they can’t stay out of trouble and problem after problem lands in their laps. The only way out is to plan an audacious gig at the city’s Caird Hall.
The opening sequences are perhaps the most powerful. There’s a sense of Scotland being politically dislocated from the UK. It was 1979 after all, and Margaret Thatcher had just risen to power. The Tartan Army had just won at Wembley, and there was a sense of Scotland against the world. This felt great. Some real social commentary. I could get into this. The only problem was… any sense of genuine tension ended when the acting started.
We meet Davie’s love interest nurse Shona (Tara Lee) early in the film, just after he gets his leg broken on a football pitch. Lee’s acting felt even worse than that of the three friends trying their hand at organising gigs. I’m not sure if she was being paid for her role, but her level of interest seemed to illustrate that she wasn’t. This isn’t entirely her fault; if Lee had been given something interesting to say, things might’ve been different.
The characters were thrown together like sweets in a bag of sugary pick and mix, and then there they were, booking bands to avoid getting their legs broken. It didn’t feel real, or fresh, or original. The film used some beautiful shots of Dundee; some great buildings, coasts and sunsets all added texture and mood to the story. I don’t know why they couldn’t have taken the same care to supplement other things like characters, a plot, or acting ability.
Davie felt one dimensional. Though Connor Berry is a good-looking guy, I didn’t enjoy the performance. There wasn’t much there in the way of emotional intensity and I couldn’t help but think that the film was relying on his looks rather than his acting or any sense of exciting story structure.
The tone seemed to veer between sentimentality for the time in which the film was set and a kind of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels gangster humour, which worked poorly together. In the end, all we really got was confusion. Perhaps someone somewhere thought that this combination would be commercially viable, but it certainly didn’t come across that way.
I could’ve forgiven the bad acting if I had been handed a happy ending, with the two young lovers riding off into the sunset. Yet no such luck – in accordance with the “based on a true story” gambit, that was too much to ask. The denouement that I was hoping for didn’t materialise and I felt a bit cheated. Again, this would be excusable if the film had posed some big questions or taken me on a rollercoaster ride through Scottish social issues à la Trainspotting, but it did neither of these. Granted, there were nice touches; actual Iron Maiden footage, a bewildered London record boss, some decent humour and a fairly solid soundtrack (if you like that type of thing) all made me think there was hope that the film might not be completely awful, but the lack of any real change in the lead character and no meaningful message didn’t make me want to call it entertaining either. Let’s hope that my next review is slightly more positive. I’m off to find the email address for the plonkers that made that trailer.