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Good fun saves 'Plunkett & MacLeane'; Review: Initially a crude mess, the musical story of larcenous 18th-century buddies pulls the noose from its neck just in time.


Like a child who breaks a lamp, then finger-paints the best refrigerator picture ever, so does the new film "Plunkett & MacLeane" walk the fine line between frustrating and lovable.

There aren't many movies that would attempt to set the story of an 18th-century pair of highwaymen against a modern musical sensibility, and "Plunkett & MacLeane," while largely entertaining, doesn't always succeed.

In fact, the first 30 minutes are a waste, literally and figuratively, as the movie plays to the lowest common denominator, with sex, gore, grave robbing and a little defecation thrown in for good measure.

The choice of a hip-hop and heavy-metal soundtrack, while intending to be challenging, is actually jarring, especially during a ballroom dance scene that is well intentioned but thrown off-kilter by the anachronistic music.

Thankfully, British video and commercial director Jake Scott, in his feature film debut, gets past the crassness in time to turn in a witty, ultimately pleasing piece.

At its core, "Plunkett & MacLeane" is a buddy film -- albeit 200 years before its time -- and Robert Carlyle ("Trainspotting," "The Full Monty") and Jonny Lee Miller ("Trainspotting") are engaging as a 1700s English version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Miller, in particular, shines as MacLeane, the Army captain who uses his status as a nobleman to gather data on the wealthy, which he and his less polished partner Plunkett then use to rob them, becoming the "gentlemen highwaymen."

The visually stunning Liv Tyler ("Armageddon," "That Thing You Do") continues her progress as an actress, affecting a decent British accent as the clever maiden who is the object of MacLeane's affections.

Of course, her presence sets up the seemingly inevitable conflict between the bandit duo and telegraphs the expected ending, but, by that point, the movie is too much fun to ignore.

'Plunkett & MacLeane'

Starring Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Liv Tyler, Ken Stott and Alan Cumming

Directed by Jake Scott

Released by Gramercy Films and USA Films

Rated R (language, gore, sexual themes)

Running time: 102 minutes

Sun score **

Pub Date: 10/01/99

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