It is 18th century London and the wealthy are being terrorised by the notorious highwaymen Plunkett (Robert Carlyle) and Macleane (Johnny Lee Miller). When the deadly duo hold up the coach of the Lord Chief Justice Gibson (Michael Gambon), matters get more complicated. Macleane falls in love with Gibson's niece Lady Rebecca (Liv Tyler), but Thief Taker General Chance sets out to locate and destroy the two highwaymen.Free upgrade to first class mail.
No one will be neutral about Plunkett & Macleane
. Either you go with its notion of cheeky, stylish fun or you want to grab first-time director Jake Scott by the ear and slap him silly.
Your inclination may depend on whether you recall his dad Ridley's own directing debut, The Duellists (1977), and savor the correspondences. Dad took a Joseph Conrad tale of the Napoleonic Wars, cast it with the ultra-contemporary Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel, and filmed it with a swoopingly mobile camera. Son Jake has made a feisty period piece about a pair of thieves (Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller) in 1748 London and filled it with blatant anachronisms. A decadent aristo (Alan Cumming), asked whether he "still swings both ways," replies, "I swing every way!" A ballroom full of revelers dances the minuet (or is it the gavotte?) while our ears--if not theirs--are filled with a rock ballad. And so forth.
Is this sophomoric? Maybe. But it's also often fresh and inventive. Why shouldn't a filmmaker be allowed to speak directly to a contemporary consciousness, even flaunt it, as long as he also delivers startling imagery and convincing period detail? The solid cast includes Michael Gambon as a corrupt magistrate, Ken Stott as a very nasty enforcer named Mr. Chance (who favors a thumb through the eye socket and into the brain as a mode of execution), and Terence Rigby as a philosophical jailer; even Liv Tyler looks more interesting than usual. Plunkett & Macleane is in the end pretty frivolous, but it's a lively debut nonetheless. --Richard T. Jameson