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The Bank Job

(2008) * 1/2 R
112 min. Lionsgate Films. Director: Roger Donaldson. Cast: Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Stephen Campbell Moore, Daniel Mays, James Faulkner.

Roger Donaldson's latest film opens laughably, awash with random hedonism. In 1970, somewhere in the Caribbean, Princess Margaret parties hard. On the soundtrack: "Bang a Gong." On the screen, bare, bouncing breasts. Cue the main title: it's "THE BANK JOB"! Huh? Don't ask questions. You're a man, right? Here is the promise of plentiful nudity, rock music, crime, and Jason Statham. You'll take it and like it. You're a woman? Err...can I interest you in College Road Trip? Never mind.

The Bank Job moves on to 1971 East London and barely coherent, criminally boring character development. Once the based-in-truth screenplay by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Across the Universe) hits a stride, there's moderate improvement, but the picture remains terminally grotty and marred by cliché. Statham brings his patented scowling act as the leader of a band of robbers tasked with the titular heist. Pouty Saffron Burrows is the femme fatale in their ranks, a ridiculous attempt to get a "girl in the picture." Statham's now-married character is tempted to rekindle their past relationship, which amounted to "four Chinese meals and a roll in the hay...a long time ago."

The rest of the gang are a photographer (Stephen Campbell Moore), a porn actor (Daniel Mays), a con man (James Faulkner), and a digging expert from Cyprus (Alki David), none of whom develops into an engaging character; for that matter, neither do the leads. It's the case itself that is the star. The mysterious "Baker Street Bank Job" (or "walkie-talkie robbery") gives the filmmakers license credibly to speculate as to why the government suppressed journalistic reportage at the time: safe-deposited photographs embarrassing to high-level officials. Though the crooks have their eyes on over 400 million pounds of loot, Burrows' model-turned-thief is secretly after the incriminating blackmail material, which she's bound to return to the halls of power.

It's the complicated conspiracy plot that's the film's best shot at generating interest, spending as it does a bit of time with characters more interesting than the cardboard gang: the Trinidadian black-power activist/criminal Michael X (Peter de Jersey), the "porn king of Soho" (David Suchet) and—wait a tick—even Lord Mountbatten ("I haven't had this much excitement since the war!"). Anglophiles will also take note of veteran actor Peter Bowles (To the Manor Born, The Irish R.M.) as the string-pulling government conspirator looking to protect national interests.

Given the story's inherent interest and the screenwriters' effort to stir up intrigue, it's a shame that The Bank Job gets the budget treatment, with Donaldson working at less than the top of his game (the pointless use of dutch angles is the least of his problems here) and as much posturing going on as there is acting. Tunneling underground notwithstanding, a heist movie shouldn't feel this much like drudgery.

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