Schemers review: scrappy metal memoir hits the wrong key

Music impresario Dave McLean directs a pivotal episode from his early days, putting on gigs in Dundee. But while there’s a admirable punk spirit to his yarn, it fails to rock or roll.

Schemers (2020)
Schemers (2020)

▶︎ Schemers is screening in UK cinemas from 25 September.

Conceived by concert promoter and band manager Dave Mclean as a tribute to his enterprising younger self, Schemers is a jaunty, scrappy memoir which tempers narcissism with a generous measure of self-deprecation.

Mclean’s story picks up in 1979 with Davie (Conor Berry), in his early twenties, a product of Dundee’s dour housing schemes, desperate to escape the drudgery of a factory job after injury curtails his footballing ambitions. Roping in friends and family members, Davie turns to promoting gigs at a local club night. But as his ambitions grow bigger, so does the ire of neighbourhood heavy Fergie, who Davie owes money to. It all builds up to a fraught attempt to book hot new outfit Iron Maiden, whose unlikely and momentous real-life concert forms the film’s climax.

Berry, whose angular features recall a young Peter Capaldi, makes a decent fist of the impulsive, exasperating Davie. But Mclean’s screen avatar – as written by Mclean and collaborators – ends up hogging the limelight a little too much for comfort. Supporting players are either underdeveloped or broad, whether it’s Tara Lee’s pointless love interest or the cartoonish gangster contingent.

The latter element – and the freeze-frames and split-screens deployed by editor Khaled Spiewak – suggest the influence of Guy Ritchie, a sensibility somewhat at odds with the low-key, Bill Forsyth-esque naturalism in evidence elsewhere. Ultimately, neither approach seems quite the right fit for Mclean’s reminiscences, which are occasionally amusing but wear a mite thin over the film’s 90 minutes.