Overpopulated film is petty larceny at best.
"The Bank Job" bills itself as the true story of a 1971 London safe deposit-box heist plotted by the British intelligence agency MI5. The spooks weren't after state secrets, but incriminating photos of a fun-loving royal enjoying a multipartner romp in bed.
The screenplay by the veteran team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais ("Across the Universe," "The Commitments") provides a colorful cast of characters working at cross-purposes, including a firebrand black militant/gangster, a menacing vice lord, hypocritical aristocrats and the team of working-class blokes recruited to do the break-in dirty work. Director Roger Donaldson commendably avoids the violence-soaked artiness of Guy Ritchie's crime yarns, but fails to find a strong arc of action through the cluttered, sometimes confusing story.
The key man is Terry Leather (Jason Statham, once again substituting five-o-clock stubble and a growl for a distinctive character). A small-time crook turned used-car dealer, he spins back the odometers on his vehicles while yearning for the big score that would set him, his wife and kids up for a life of leisure.
Opportunity arrives in the slinky form of his old sweetheart Martine (Saffron Burrows), operating undercover on behalf of her shifty spy lover Tim (Richard Lintern). Martine tells Terry about a bank whose security boxes would be easy to rob. What Terry doesn't know is that MI5 wants her to retrieve the scandalous photos through a robbery the agency can deny instigating.
Terry signs up a motley band of thieves, including would-be fashion photographer Kevin (Stephen Campbell Moore), who is another of Martine's ex-lovers, and stag film actor Dave (Daniel Mays), whose sad-clown face belies his sizable qualifications for his line of work. The business of tunneling into the vault is routine stuff, and the crooks' ineptitude offers a few moments of mild humor. When the inexperienced lookout breaches security on his walkie-talkie, Dave scolds, "No names, Eddie." "Sorry, Dave," comes the reply.
David Suchet (best known as public television's Hercule Poirot) emerges as the overpopulated story's main antagonist, Lew Vogel. With ledger books in the bank vault detailing his payoffs to half the London police force, the porn king pursues the robbers mercilessly. The conflict leads to one of the oddest fight scenes in action star Statham's career. "The Bank Job" is petty larceny at best.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186