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Hooligan Factory, The

D: Nick Nevern / 90m

Cast: Jason Maza, Nick Nevern, Tom Burke, Ray Fearon, Keith-Lee Castle, Steven O’Donnell, Morgan Watkins, Josef Altin, Leo Gregory, Lorraine Stanley

As a young lad, Danny (Maza) gets expelled from school, and with his father in prison, winds up living with his grandfather (an uncredited Ian Lavender).  Wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps as a top football hooligan (but unsure how to go about it, and not as obviously mental as his father), Danny is drifting through life when his grandfather announces he’s selling his flat and moving abroad.  Forced to move out, Danny takes his belongings and is looking for somewhere to stay when he finds himself being mugged.  But help comes from an unexpected source: recently released from prison hard man Dex (Nevern), one of the most vicious leaders of a football hooligan firm ever.  Dex is looking for revenge on the Baron (Castle), a rival firm leader, and responsible for the death of Dex’s young son.

Dex takes Danny under his wing, and he sets about rebuilding his old gang.  Danny begins to find his place in life as he joins Dex and his firm on trips around the country taking on other firms, and getting involved in violent clashes.  As Dex’s firm defeats more and more rivals, the Baron issues a challenge to the remaining firms: put Dex in his place once and for all.  But this proves too difficult, and in the end, the Baron is forced to confront Dex back at the same site where Dex’s son was killed.  Can Dex avenge his son?  Will the Baron get his just desserts?  Will Danny ever gain the respect of Dex’s right hand man, Bullet (Burke)?  And will anyone in Dex’s firm realise that Old Bill (O”Donnell) really is the Old Bill?

THE HOOLIGAN FACTORY

Though rough around the edges, The Hooligan Factory is a much-needed spoof of the recent spate of British football hooligan movies, such as Green Street (2005) and The Firm (2009) (there’s also a terrific parody of Rise of the Footsoldier (2007) in the movie’s prologue).  Where those movies have a kind of grim social commentary driving them forward, here the emphasis is on cutting that approach down to size and then trampling all over it (and with the proper colour co-ordinated trainers).

There’s much to commend it, even though it is uneven and some of the jokes aren’t as original (or amusing) as the filmmakers would like, but it is funny and it lampoons its targets with commendable attention to detail, from Danny and Dex’s outfits, to the scene where most of the various firms’ leaders admit to having an autobiography either on the shelves already, or about to be published.  There’s so much going on at times, particularly in the first hour, that when the movie begins to flag, it comes as no surprise at all, but by then it’s created such a good vibe that a shortfall in laughs is compensated for by the need for a more dramatic resolution (though as if to compensate even for that, Dex’s “passing of the torch” is one of the movie’s best – and most unexpected – visual gags).

In the director’s chair – he’s also the co-writer, with Michael Lindlay – Nevern assembles his cast and lets them loose on the material with what appears to be a great deal of leeway, with some scenes having a semi-improvised feel to them.  Maza has just the right amount of gung-ho neediness that helps make Danny so appealing, while the supporting cast all register their intent to make as much of the script as they possibly can (and if there’s the odd bit of over-acting here and there, well… so what?).  It’s Nevern, though, who makes the biggest impact, imbuing Dex with a violent streak a mile wide but also making him as naive as a newborn, his inability to realise that his two year old son (born while he was in prison) is the offspring of his best mate Midnight (Fearon), both endearing in its own way, as well as being laughable.  To Nevern’s credit, he plays it straight, and while there’s a minor amount of winking at the camera, Nevern doesn’t allow himself the luxury of breaking the fourth wall.

With priceless cameos from the likes of British crime movie stalwarts Tamer Hassan, Craig Fairbrass and Danny Dyer, as well as minor celebs such as Chloe Sims from The Only Way Is Essex and former hooligan Cass Pennant, The Hooligan Factory has its fair share of surprises to keep its audience on its toes, but it’s the humour that counts, and for long stretches this is a movie that delivers belly laughs galore, some that are very silly indeed, some that are blackly comic, and some that are clever allusions to the movie’s more dramatic forebears.  Strangely, there are moments that feel rushed, while others seem stretched out beyond the script’s requirements; on these occasions the movie does grind to a halt, but thanks to Nevern’s firm hand on the tiller, they don’t upset the movie’s rhythm too much, and he soon gets things back on an even keel.

The violence is toned way down in comparison with, say, I.D. (1995), but then this is a spoof, and while it may not be so bloody or contentious, what it lacks in febrile intensity, it more than makes up for with clever laughs and knowing performances from all concerned.

Rating: 7/10 – uneven at times but doing its best to please throughout, The Hooligan Factory succeeds largely due to the involvement of so many people who’ve been involved in the very movies this seeks to mock (including Nevern); a great movie for a Saturday night with a few beers, and well worth watching just for the aforementioned “passing of the torch” moment.

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