One film that keeps me up at night is The Wolf of Wall Street. Aside from his monumental Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Goodfellas trifecta, I’m not a big fan of Martin Scorsese, but Wolf of Wall Street is such a well-made film on such a reductive scope, it’s hard to decide if it deserves praise or derision. Taking Jordan Belfort’s memoirs as fact, and ignoring all other potential views, it’s like listening to a pub-braggart telling tall tales; undeniably entertaining, but lacking where it comes to any genuine insight.
Dave McLean’s Schemers is a much more modest proposal, but suffers from a similar issue; Mclean was a music promoter in Dundee before going on to manage Placebo, and this semi-autobiographical tale seems like pretty much his own origin story; a tale of 80’s music business excess that falls firmly into the ‘wonder of me’ category. That said, there’s sparks of interest here as three young Dundonians seek to stage a money-spinning Iron Maiden gig at the city’s Caird Hall to pay off their debts to various criminal factions.
Davie (Conor Berry), Scot (Sean Connor) and John (Grant Robert Keelan) land in the music biz by accident; aspiring footballer Davie injures himself, and falls for his nurse while in hospital. Promising her tickets for a disco, he ends up promoting a series of bands including Simple Minds and The Skids, but the splitting of profits with gangsters puts the boys in mortal danger. Can they pull off their biggest gig and save their skins, or will their plan backfire?
Given Mclean’s success, the resolution is never in doubt, but part of the fun of a heist-type movie is the how, and Scottish audiences will enjoy details like the side-swipes at Sydney Devine. But Schemers is hobbled by rote adherence to out-dated clichés; the opening sequence is a rip on Trainspotting, all freeze-frames and high-street energy, and the film’s feel is disappointingly generic in aping the worst geezer-excess of Guy Ritchie. Female characters are poorly served, and the final gig is underwhelming.
Once a certain amount of money and success is achieved, many talents turn to memorialising themselves, and it would be churlish to deny that Schemers has a beating heart buried underneath all the borrowed style. Like Wolf of Wall Street, this project needed another set of eyes on the script and production, mining a perspective that might create audience appeal. But with Scottish film production in the doldrums, individual efforts deserve some applause, and Mclean and his crew deserve some credit for getting this lightweight, but entertaining story out there.