Schemers (2020)

Director: Dave McLean

Running Time: 91 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Conor Berry, Sean Connor, Grant R. Keelan, Tara Lee, Kit Clark, Blair Robertson, Mingus Johnston, Paula Masterson, Carolyn Bonnyman, Richard Mason, Alastair Thomson Mills

Set in late-1970's Dundee, a football injury leaves Davie (Conor Berry) in hospital, where he falls for trainee nurse Shona (Tara Lee). With the help of his friends, Davie tries to impress her by running a disco, which turns into them promoting bands. The trio get into debt with a violent gangster named Fergie (Alastair Thomson Mills), which leads them to pulling off their biggest scheme with a hugely ambitious Iron Maiden gig.

Approaching this true story with a comedic touch, director Dave McLean brings to mind crowd-pleasing capers. The humorous tone allows the cast to show their fun side, alleviating what could've been bleak subject matter, but it's unfortunate the gags are so hit and miss. Also affected are the more serious moments, which end up feeling rather out of place, no matter how true they can be to the real-life tale. This is especially true of the gangster elements, which end up feeling rather forced, as though they were taken from a different film.

Affecting the 91-minute runtime is how there's no sense of pacing, as the story moves along far too quickly. We see Davie's entry point into music promotion, through initial attempts to impress his love-interest, but we don't naturally see him consider this as a viable vocation. Instead, this feels crammed into his journey, and before we know it, the film barrels through the rising career with little time to settle. Hampering matters further is the intrusive voiceover, which sucks the tension out of some scenes, and tells what's happening more than the film actually shows. It comes off as a lack of confidence in the story, as though the filmmakers are worried audiences won't follow what's happening.

Central to this tale is Davie, who constantly hustles, looking to make money through whatever schemes he can. Deep down inside, he wishes to make his parents proud, one-day look after his family, and be happy with the woman he loves. Hampering him is a gambling problem, which seems to pop up whenever the plot needs a convenient way to make matters worse. When it comes to his relationship with Shona, it's difficult to invest in when she's treated so awfully, and leaves one to think she deserves better.

Helping out our lead are Scott, who earns a living selling drugs, and John, whose marriage is strained from their businesses financial pressures. The pair are there to bail out Davie when needed, and it's easy to buy into their tight-knit friendship thanks to the able performances. The cast-members deliver charming camaraderie, which allows them to show off their good comedic chops, and convey both the joy and stress their work gives them.

As the third act comes around, and Iron Maiden arrive, we see how much our characters are in over their heads. They try to make everything run smoothly, running themselves ragged to overcome obstacles which keep getting in their way. This seems to be the perfect lead-up to a moment of triumph, where it all comes together to wrap things up in a feel-good way. But we aren't allowed that, instead treating the ending as a lame "gotcha" moment. It ends with things tied up too neatly, as the issues plaguing our characters are settled off-screen. It's a misjudged capper to unfortunately handled tale.

Schemers will be released on DVD and Digital Download January 25th