“Schemers” is an autobiographical slice of Scottish whimsy about a 20ish lad who becomes a concert promoter just to impress a college girl in the Dundee, Scotland of the 1980s.
As Davie McLean (Conor Berry) tells his tale — with ample examples from “real life” and a heavy dose of voice-over narration — he was always a seat-of-the-pants hustler, a hard-drinking, hard-living “degenerate gambler” with a “bit of a love affair with th’horses” long before he met the fair bottle-blonde Shona (Tara Lee) with the Brooke Shields/Lily Collins eyebrows.
How’d he meet her? He got caught crawling into bed with some goon’s fiance. Whatever dreams of soccer glory he held (we never see him play), that ends with the busted ankle that puts him in the hospital, where his morphine-addled vision of a nurse’s aid (Shona) fires his attempts to get her attention once he’s out and on crutches.
As she’s stunning, looking a lot like the future film star Imogen Poots, he invites her and her guardian-friends to “a disco at the uni (versity) I’m organizing.” That’s thinking on your feet.
“She called my bluff. Cheeky that.”
That sets a whole life path in motion for Davie. He doesn’t ditch his dream of studying under the writer-producer of the documentary, “Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia.” Not entirely. The real Dave McLean co-wrote and directed “Schemers,” after all. But it did send him on the steep learning curve of concert promoting, an unsavory corner of the performing arts that set him up for another — filmmaking.
Davie, still on crutches, must entice a married soccer player/dance DJ (Grant Robert Keelan) to do the show and partner with him on it. He enlists his drug-dealing mate Scot (Sean Conner) as well. And they literally leap from a sell-out dance to putting on live shows. This new band, Simple Minds, recommended by Shone and “getting some airplay on (radio host) John Peel?” Try them. XTC, Thin Lizzy, Ultravox and others follow.
This new band. “outta Dublin, they’re gonna be HUGE” is offered. “Never HAIRD of’em.”
The “12 Bridges (of Dundee) Promotions” team finances shows with gambling winnings or drug money, and fakes a death to get out of another.
Much of this meteoric rise happens before Davie even gets his cast off, before he’s convinced Shona that he’s not just a “chancer” but a lad on the move. But when most of the clubs and concert venues he needs to make these shows come off are owned by Fergie (Alastair Thomson Mills), “the chief potato of Dundee’s McMafia,” there’s trouble on the horizon.
And that “next big thing” metal band that Davie wants to score? That’s where the serious money, the serious gamble and most serious threats come in.
“When you begin to swim deeper, don’t be surprised when you meet the sharks.”
Seat-of-the-pants music business tales like this all owe a debt to “24 Hour Party People,” or even “Hear My Song.” Earlier this year, we were treated to the saga of the guy who “discovered Oasis” (“Creation Stories”). I find it a fun genre.
“Schemers,” with real Dundee locations (Caird Hall, where they wanted to book Iron Maiden, is featured) but zero star power, isn’t on a par with any of its predecessors. The story’s throughline is jumbled and the lack of music rights limits the concert scenes and takes away an important feature of the nostalgia being sold here — its soundtrack.
Another big problem. The film’s in untranslated Scottish, the English tongue at its slangyest and least decipherable. You can hope your ear-brain connection gets you into the -playful-musical rhythms of the dialect. But truth be told, I’d bet anybody who hannae lived in Dundee for a wee spell is going to spend a lot of time wondering “What’re they on about, then?”
This isn’t your typical “Trainspotting” Scots-you-can-decipher, albeit a few moments after the phrase has invaded your ear. This is full-on haggis and Highland Park whisky Scots. Oy.
Young Berry makes an agreeable lead, and Lee — perhaps playing a fictional character, considering her “function” in the film — adds sex appeal and nicely humanizes chancer Davie as her character makes him explain himself and face himself when things go wrong because his biggest lie to one and all is “I know what I’m doing.”
Thanks to them, and no thanks to the film’s delusions of Guy Ritchie “underworld” wit, “Schemers” manages to be a tolerable mess of a movie, but little more.
Rating: unrated, violence, drug abuse, profanity
Cast: Conor Berry, Sean Conner, Tara Lee, Grant Robert Keelan, Carolyn Bonnyman, Kit Clark, David Izzat and Alastair Thomson Mills
Credits: Directed by Dave McLean, scripted by Dave McLean, Khaled Spiewak and Kyle Titterton. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:29