Thursday, June 12, 2008

THE BANK JOB

Review: The Bank Job
2.5 stars (out of 5)
by R. Kurt Osenlund

If Jason Statham doesn’t tread carefully, he could very well become the next Wesley Snipes; or worse yet, Steven Seagal. The once promising side player of Guy Ritchie cult capers like “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” has since become a generic, one-trick-pony action star. It’s fair to say that Statham’s self-pigeonholing began with the success of 2002’s “The Transporter,” a surprisingly unique, fists-flying flick that hopefully won’t be remembered as the first nail in the coffin of his career. Since then, he’s gone on to partake in fine blockbusters like 2003’s remake of “The Italian Job,“ but mainly cashed in on his hero bankability in duds like “Crank, Chaos” (in which Snipes actually co-starred), “In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale” (helmed by the loathsome Uwe Boll), and last year’s “War” with Jet Li. His latest is yet another Job — “The Bank Job,” though it doesn’t hold a candle to its Italian predecessor.

In 1971, a ragtag group of thieves knocked off a bank on London’s Baker Street and made off with nearly three million pounds of cash and jewelry from safe deposit boxes. The theft made brief headlines, until a government issued gag order pulled the story, and the crooks and the loot were never seen again. More than thirty years later, this movie attempts to tell the tale of what really happened with the heist, and does so via such an over-layered hyperlink narrative that it would be absurd if it weren’t based on actual events.


MI-5 (yep, one digit away from Bond’s boss) is in trouble. The Royal Family’s beloved Princess Margaret has had some incriminating photos snapped of her while vacationing in Costa Rica. They’re being held for insurance by Britain’s public enemy number one, a Black Panther-esque radical with a mean temper. To get the photos back (which are tucked away in a safe deposit box, of course), MI-5 calls on its new hot-shot operative Tim (Richard Lintern), with the instructions of “by any means necessary”. Tim taps his new squeeze Martine (Saffron Burrows), who’s just been busted for coke and offers her help to clear her name. Martine has friends in low places, namely Terry (Statham), a car salesman/family man who rubs elbows with organized crime and has a record as long as his arm. Never ones to turn down a good get-rich-quick felony, Terry and his mates bite at Martine’s offer to rob a bank, unaware that they’ll actually be doing covert work for the government. Their eventual actions have an unexpected ripple effect, the rings of which touch everyone from a seedy, underground porn king to heads of state. Before they can say “Bob’s your uncle,” the crew finds themselves caught in a web of political intrigue, as the shots of the Princess weren’t the only compromising items behind the bank’s vault doors.

For all of its far-reaching tentacles of plot (there are even sub-sub-plots, including an adulterous romance between Terry and Martine, and yet another operative infiltrating the radical kingpin’s inner circle), the film is actually quite easy to follow, which is probably the best thing to be said about Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ script. The duo handles the material well enough that it achieves cinematic legibility, yet the whole thing still feels unintelligent and never generates any real surprises.


And for a movie called ”The Bank Job,” it must be said that the most irritating thing about it is the act itself. Terry and the gang rent out a vacant space two doors down from the bank, and plot to tunnel their way underground and up through the vault floor, a la Ian McShane and co. in 2000’s “Sexy Beast.” Sounds like a good plan, right? On paper, yes, but with this group of idiots, it’s a pitiful sight. They jack-hammer their way through the floor, next-door to a fast food joint at dinner time, then express shock when a policeman comes knocking at their door with a noise complaint. Once through, rather than get the job done and get out, the team opts for what they claim is a well-deserved nap (plenty of time for the two pretty lead stars to get it on inside the vault). And when their dim-witted lookout announces over a radio (on which names are a no-no, but “we’re in the vault” is okay) that the cops may be en route, the boys pop an aged champagne bottle and start sucking it back. The whole thing is so haphazard, it makes one wish they’d all just get caught.

The crew thankfully wises up, as they realize that they’re the ones in control given their recently acquired bargaining chips. From then on, the film manages to moderately entertain, but never truly leaves the ground. By the time each of the narrative threads finally begin to weave themselves together, it’s a result that the audience has already sewn in its head. It’s a pity “The Bank Job” feels so flat, because it’s based on one helluva true story; one that deserved epic treatment but instead had to settle for by-the-numbers thrills. According to the Internet Movie Database, The Brazilian Job (aka “The Italian Job 2”) is in pre-production, with a 2009 release date and Statham on board to star. Here’s hoping the actor’s third film vocation gives his own a boost in respectability, otherwise he may soon find himself stranded in straight-to-video land with Mr. Snipes and Mr. Seagal.

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