Don’t be fooled by its vibrant soundtrack—Schemers had the potential to capture the spirit of the Dundee music scene, but instead becomes a vanity project lacking heart or humour
In the coastal city of Dundee, Scotland in 1980, cocky fledgling promoter Dave McLean has booked Iron Maiden for a gig that will be remembered by music fans well into the future. Almost 41 years later, McLean himself has written and directed a biopic about that very gig—but mostly about himself. At least we know what we’re getting into before we’ve Schemers has even, right?
Conor Berry is one of the few watchable actors. He confidently takes the lead as Davey, a down-on-his-luck music fanatic whose plans of becoming a football player are foiled when his leg is broken by a one-night stand’s vengeful boyfriend. Ever the hopeless romantic, however, Davey falls for and starts to pursue the heart of his nurse, Shona (Tara Lee). His time away from the pitch also kindles another love for a profession he had never even considered: music promotion.
Teaming up with his two friends, the embarrassingly unfunny Scot (Sean Connor) and dreary John (Grant Robert Keelan), Davey sets out to put on the best gigs in Dundee—with a little extra help from mob money. The highs and (mostly) lows of Davey’s new career choice lead him down a path of violence, betrayal and various blink-and-you’ll-miss-it plot moments.
The opening scene of Schemers is an obvious homage to Trainspotting, another flick where the soundtrack takes center stage. Davey runs through the streets of Dundee narrating exactly how he came to be in a hospital bed, flirting with the nurse and starting his career afresh. Unfortunately, the narration isn’t half as witty or entertaining as one might expect. It might seem the obvious choice for a biopic, but all it really attempts to offer is some much-needed clarity to a plot that has none whatsoever. Oh, and it ruins jokes.
The comedy in Schemers is questionable to say the least, but one particular moment proves it’s certainly not McLean’s strong point. Low on money, John suggests they visit “the vicar” as he owes him money. “The vicar” in this context does sound like an alias, Davey’s not wrong there, so it is rather amusing when he actually turns out to be a real vicar. The problem is that Davey commentates the joke, almost patronisingly explaining it to us. The single point for comedy so far is promptly snatched away (though it should be noted that there is one rather funny scene in which Davey and the boys use a battered sausage to measure miles on a roadmap).
Scot is certainly one of the only likeable characters in the film, but for someone set up to be the comic relief, he is in fact very unfunny. Despite that, being sweet and dim-witted (with a permanent gormless look on his face) makes him a spark of joy in an otherwise dull list of characters. The women in the film, rare as they are, appear only as a fling or John’s nagging wife, Chrissy. John steals from and lies to his wife, but he’s never shown as the terrible husband he is. Even when his lies are exposed, Chrissy worryingly forgives him immediately. And they’re not even the worst couple in the film.
As for Davey, the question remains as to whether McLean knew he was painting his own youthful self as arrogant and conceited. He’s definitely cool—the opening scene alone says as much—but similarly to John, he rarely thinks twice before betraying his friends or selfishly putting himself first. Still, Conor Berry makes the role his own and is clearly perfectly suited for a film such as this.
Not even Placebo, Simple Minds or The Proclaimers could add the energy Schemers desperately needs to be taken seriously as the musical biopic of a city and a generation. With an unimpressive cast and a messy plot, it’s a far cry from the likes of Sing Street, Trainspotting and its other inspirations. It isn’t completely free of charm, however, so if you’re looking for anything with some lovely Scottish accents and a bit of rock—sing along to your heart’s content!
Words by Libby Briggs
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