Friday, March 07, 2008

"The Bank Job" -- * *

Okay, I guess I'm going to be alone on this one. Roger Donaldson's "The Bank Job" is a slick, no-frills true story heist movie, and that seems to be enough to be garnering it praise as a solid 70s-esque crime flick. But while there's probably a certain crowd that's going to eat this up, it left me with one of my trademark blank, disaffected stares on my face for most of the duration. It's not a bad movie per se, it's competently assembled and never feels lazy; it just never once gripped me and I kept waiting for it to come to life or show any attribute to make it feel fresh. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the flashy, style-over-substance "Ocean's" films; and movies like "The Score," "Heist" and "The Italian Job" were hardly hugely original, but they all had more of a devotion to the entertainment factor, and were made significantly more interesting by clever scripting/dialogue and actors seemingly enjoying themselves.

Based on a 1971 robbery of the Lloyds Bank in London, "The Bank Job" tells the story of Terry (Jason Statham) and how he's manipulated by Martine (Saffron Burrows), a girl from his old neighborhood, to ransack all the bank's safe deposit boxes. She needs something in one of them, and if he assembles a crew and gets her what she needs, him and said crew can reap the spoils. What Terry and his gang of predictably bumbling thieves (wittily referred to as "villains") don't know is (a) the needed items in question are photos of Princess Margaret engaged in illicit acts, and (b) this is all being orchestrated by the British government, through Martine, who plans to lock the criminals up as soon as they have what they need. Needless to say, things don't go as planned.

For a film that is intentionally, and blatantly, trying to emulate the crime flicks of the 1970s, there's not much of an attempt here at a '70s feel, in terms of style, direction, construction, performances, anything. The contrived thriller score is emphatically '90s, and the one or two '70s-esque close-ups or camera movements only serve to make you where they were for the rest of the movie. In fact, the most old-school element of "The Bank Job" is its poster, and it must be said that it is a truly awesome one (and of course, the studio neglected to use it for the newspaper ads). It evokes a feel the film does not, and seems to hold promise for a fast, fun, cinematic-renaissance-evoking heist movie, rather than the straightforward, mediocre beast that it is.

The trailers and TV spots are selling a very fun, witty movie, so some may be disappointed at the mostly self-serious tone that permeates the film, shooting for "suspense." The first hour, in particular, settles one into a dull stupor with its reminiscent heist mechanics, i.e.: the job itself. I was, personally, reminded of the first act of "Small Time Crooks," were it drained of laughs, but to each his own. The last 45 minutes or so, with the post-heist repercussions, with the squabbling, blackmail and confusion, are slightly more diverting, but by that point, the movie had totally lost me. Statham himself has long been regarded as fairly "awesome," and he's perfectly fine here, if not terribly likeable. It should be noted that this is his least physical or "badass" performance, and it also provides him with less witty/smart-alecky deliveries than usual. I commend him for branching out to a new kind of performance, but in a film like this, I doubt his acting is going to get much/any attention.

I suppose "The Bank Job" deserves more credit than most of its ilk for not pandering to the styles/sensibilities of the successful films within this genre as of late, but you can tell a familiar story in a manner that doesn't make it seem like you've seen it a dozen times before. And ultimately, the best I can muster is that it's "watchable;" it's really only set apart by the 'true story' and government manipulation elements, and barely at that. Even with an opening involving skinny-dipping and a threesome, all set to T-Rex's "Bang a Gong," it's a strangely flavorless movie that does little to distinguish itself from the pack in a genre that's been done to death.


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