Writer and Director: David McLean
Straddling the boundaries of a music film and a gangster flick Schemers fails to be either or both. A vanity project by (and about) music promoter David McLean, Schemers features some good performances from its stars, but the story, even though it’s based on real events, fails to convince.
Davie is a young man struggling in his hometown of Dundee. He gets in the usual teenage scrapes like sleeping with married women, and soon he’s running down streets like Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting, a film that surely is an influence on McLean, that too a mixture of music and gangland bosses. And indeed, the opening minutes of Schemers when Davie gets his bones crushed by a furious husband are as funny as Danny Boyle’s classic, but McLean struggles to maintain this early streak of humour.
Instead, the film travels down the familiar path of young lads trying to make a few quid, and in this approach McLean’s autobiographical film is more similar to the rave film Weekender than it is Trainspotting. In Weekender two men try to start a business by running rave clubs in the 1990s and end up in trouble with the Manchester mafia. In Schemers, Davie and his two friends John and Scot become music promoters and then find themselves embroiled in a Dundonian crime syndicate.
From organising a university disco, the boys soon are booking up-and-coming bands for the city. With little money for publicity, the promoters often design by hand their posters to announce the next act they have managed to snag. The names on the posters go by in a flash; Ultravox, Skids, Madness, Simple Minds and even XTC. However we see nothing of these gigs, and hear nothing of their music; perhaps licensing was a problem for McLean because, while the soundtrack isn’t bad, it rarely complements the story. The best track of the whole film is the anachronistic Daddy Cool, here performed, not by Boney M, but by Placebo, the band that McLean still manages.
One reason for the lack of music, is the turn towards to a gangster narrative, as the venues where the bands play are all owned by honcho Fergie and he wants a cut from the door which digs a big hole in our heroes’ pockets. Throw in some love interest too, and the music story almost becomes a minor plot, and when the boys hit the big time with an Iron Maiden booking, the film is in too much of a hurry to deal with this in any detail, despite the comic potential it offers. The film ends on two anti-climaxes.
McLean‘s younger self is played by Conor Berry, who gives a confident performance, demonstrating Davie’s awkwardness and drive in equal measures. In the unenviable position of being directed by the person one is playing, Berry is present in almost every scene and he ensures that we like Davie. He’s supported well by Grant Robert Keelan as John, a married man with a mortgage that often acts as insurance on money owed, and Sean Connor as drug-dealer Scot. However, it is Tara Lee as Shona, Davie’s on-off girlfriend, who impresses most in this film.
Ultimately, Schemers is a coming-of-age movie, and although it’s occasionally quirky it brings nothing new to the genre, and ends on a train platform like so many other coming-of-age movies. With more of a focus on the music industry Schemers could have been Scotland’s answer to 24 Hour Party People. Instead what we get are too many gangsters and not enough songs.
Available on DVD and streaming from 25 January 2021