Stratham scores a ‘Bank’ shot

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Jason Statham is not a name that exactly inspires confidence in moveigoers.

He was director Guy Ritchie’s lapdog for “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch,” before boxing himself in to roles that played up his martial-arts prowess, squelching any dramatic potential that nuanced his performances.

Starring in a string of empty-calorie cinematic Twinkies (“The Transporter” films, “Chaos,” “War” and “Crank” were all designed solely to accentuate his pugnacious proclivities) only kept him out of the direct-to-video purgatory that befell fellow fighters Steven Segal and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

He’s often dismissed as the British version of Bruce Willis (balding, gruff on-screen demeanor, characters of few words and a cupboard filled with cans of whoop-ass), but he has the potential to bring on more than brawn to his roles.

His followers may be small, but they are loyal, and he has staked his claim on the late-winter box office, when his films are typically released to mild success.

The generically titled “The Bank Job,” (what, was “Robbery in London” already taken?) is perhaps the most un-Statham film to star Statham, but it is also the most entertaining film on his resume in quite some time, and provides him the chance to trade deadly dropkicks for dramatic dialogue.

Even though the title claims it was “Based on Actual Events,” you can easily weed out the facts from the filmic flourishes. Yes, it was the 70s; yes there was a robbery; and yes, an amateur ham radio operator overheard the whole break-in and phoned police. The rest of the tale seems wholly constructed from the mind of screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, two Brits responsible for the wry kiddie flick “Flushed Away.”

Here, the two toss in storylines ranging from Princess Margaret porn pictures to radical black activists to brothel-frequenting Parliament members. And while most of these subplots seem to be creative liberties thrown in to sex up a mundane tale of rookie robbers, they manage to keep all the threads flowing without getting knotted up in confusion.

Statham plays Terry Leather (nope, not a typo), a two-bit car salesman whose being pinched by some rather unsavory characters collecting on some old debts. Terry is contacted by former flame Martine Love (played by Saffron Burrows) who “stumbled” upon a score that would alleviate Terry of his financial woes and perhaps get something out of it herself.

Terry hustles his local barroom brethren for the job and within days they are tunneling their way under the streets to a local bank vault.

“The Bank Job” may come across as a grittier, scrappier, across-the-pond cousin to the “Ocean’s” series, but what it lacks in expensive duds and mega-watt star-power, it makes up for with its hungry heart.

Director Roger Donaldson has been somewhat of a journeyman behind the camera, responsible for such stillborn atrocities as the Tom-Cruise-bartending-epic “Cocktail” and the I-was-boinked-by-an-alien fiasco “Species,” but he’s also helmed such superior potboilers as “No Way Out” and nail-gnawing “Thirteen Days.”

He offers no particular flair here, leaving that to the intricate-but-immanently watchable story of Terry and his mates entering what appears to be a financial honeycomb, but instead stirring up a hornets’ nest of trouble.

Given the lack of big names, vanilla title and low-key release date, “The Bank Job” will most likely vanish to obscurity from the theaters rather quickly. But it is a film that merits cinematic life support from those who bemoan the lack of breezy, twisty thrillers that used to populate the theaters decades ago.

“The Bank Job” also provides a broader swath of American audiences the chance to witness the magnetism of Statham, who is poised to wrestle free of the trappings of his bare-knuckle cinematic straightjacket and muscle his way into roles that require more kicks from his dialogue than his nimble feet.

~ by usesoapfilm on March 11, 2008.

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