by Jeff Meyers
No one's going to confuse Jason Statham's acting for Michael Caine. But the star of the homoerotically charged Transporter flicks has an undeniable appeal, filling the screen with hunky quietude. Since debuting in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the actor hasn't stretched himself much — one can only speculate how big his paycheck was for Uwe Bole's cinematic turd, In the Name of the King — so it's encouraging to see Statham reach for something a little higher than chops and kicks. In Roger Donaldson's brisk and engaging The Bank Job, he more than justifies his leading-bloke status.
Terry (Statham) is an auto repair shop owner over his head in mob debt. No stranger to smash-and-grab type crimes, he's lured into a bank robbery scheme by sexy old friend, Martine (the impossibly angular Saffron Burrows). What Terry doesn't know is that she's been strong-armed into working for MI-5 by her lover (Richard Lintern), who's trying to retrieve compromising photos of a royal family member from the bank's vault. If that weren't complicated enough, Terry and crew cross paths with a vicious Soho gangster (David Suchet), a corrupt policemen, a brothel madam and a black power revolutionary and pimp, Michael X (Peter De Jersey), who all have secrets they'd kill to keep hidden in the bank.
Aussie director Donaldson gives his film a cockeyed, jazzy feel, highlighting the sleazy politicos, sexually tense atmosphere and murderous corruption of swinging London. He's the kind of reliable, meat-and-potatoes craftsman the studios employed in the '40s, directing some solidly entertaining films over the years. Sure there've been stinkers (Cocktail, anyone?), but such movies as No Way Out, Thirteen Days and The Fastest Indian in the World were smart, crisp and refreshingly adult.
The Bank Job is a similarly well-made retro heist flick — based on the unsolved "Walkie-Talkie Robbery" of 1971 England — and Donaldson injects Hollywood-style intrigue into a colorfully dense bit of history. The tone is unpredictable, swerving from breezy to sadistic to cheeky, yet it's tautly structured.
Screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais' (Across The Universe, Flushed Away) provide a straightforward tale filled with twisty contrivances and coincidences. Unfortunately, there are so many quirky characters with competing agendas, complicated backgrounds and political connections that, as swiftly paced as The Bank Job is, the multiple plot threads start to undermine the central heist adventure.
And despite The Bank Job's historical trappings, it's not nearly as ambitious as it appears. While the movie may brush against hot-button British issues — how '60s "flower power" gave rise to the Edward Heath's corrupt conservative government — it never actually crosses into sociopolitical commentary.
Nevertheless, it's appealing stuff and center stage is Statham, an actor whose charisma falls somewhere between Clive Owen and early Bruce Willis. His acting finally seems to be improving past cinematic sneers and smoldering glares, and except for a brief punch-out scene at the end, The Bank Job leverages his average Joe persona to good effect. It's a pithy suspense flick that doesn't require the grease-covered (and gayer-than-gay) pugilism of Transporter 2.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.