The scrutiny that football managers come under from the press and the public is immense, and this is taken to the next level when that manager takes on the daunting role of managing the national side, especially when it’s England they’re in charge of. Every gaff and blunder is noticed and the history books are full of memorable mishaps involving the man coaching The Three Lions. What better mine therefore in which to dig up some comedy gems and witty satire? Sadly not. Much like the exploits of England in recent football competitions, Mike Bassett: England Manager comes up empty-handed and leaves on a disappointing note.
The titular manager is the comedy creation of Ricky Tomlinson better known for portraying Jim, the patriarch of the Royle Family. Bassett, fresh from a cup win with Norwich is called up to manage England and we follow him and the team as they qualify for and take part in the World Cup in Brazil. But moving on from fortuitous review timing, as Bassett, Tomlinson is the sole focus of the film and has to shoulder much of the comedic responsibility which he admirably tries to do. Unfortunately he’s not a charismatic screen presence and seems to be playing the suburban slob from Royle Family except in a different line of work. I think we’re meant to feel a mite sorry for him, but what starts as pathos quickly turns to irritating idiocy. The supporting cast of players and staff are easily forgettable as they seem to serve the single purpose of being walking automatons peddling their only joke as many times as possible.
The script tries its darndest to have a poke at the game we all know and love, and the focus on the interaction with the media and the angry fans comes close to producing some good laughs but it seems that not enough care has gone into crafting a really tight script and many lines simply fall flat. The style of the film tends to fall into the same trap – the mockumentary style that has proven successful on other occasions is haphazardly delivered here and oddly enough doesn’t gel with the subject matter. You can almost see the ideas for this film being jotted down, but never being fully developed or drawn together and it has a lingering air of unfinished-ness.
Pausing briefly from the negative, there are moments that will elicit at least a grin – the technology overloaded training centre sequence is a good’un – but I never found myself to be laughing heartily. It comes down to a lot of attempts but very little hitting the back of the net and Tomlinson sitting on the bench, bereft of ideas.
At least Bassett did better than Hodgson in Brazil.