Film Review: “Four Against the Bank”

Wolfgang Petersen delivers a star-studded cast and not much else in this hodgepodge of haphazardly assembled cliches and punchlines.

After a career of hits including “Das Boot,” “In the Line of Fire,” and “The Neverending Story,” Wolfgang Petersen has decided to reclaim his German roots via a remake of his own 41-year-old film, “Vier gegen die Bank (Four Against the Bank).” Unfortunately, this lighthearted bank heist feels more like a 90-minute episode of “Friends” than a window into German comedy.

German heavy-hitters Schweiger, Schweighöfer, and Liefers are neatly typecast as three ordinary Joes whose lives are unexpectedly brought together when the bank loses their life savings. The mishap is the product of a ploy by bank director Schumacher (Thomas Heinze) to get Tobias (Michael Bully Herbig), one of his tellers, fired. The three clients track down the helpless, gawky Tobias and decide to seek retribution. They transition seamlessly from discovering that their life savings have poofed into thin air to mapping out their bank teller’s murder to taking said bank teller hostage and intricately planning a big-time bank robbery — easily glossing over anything resembling shock, loss, or the like at their misfortunes.

The sheer exaggeration of the characters’ hackneyed personas is rather comical. Each is a walking schtick. Peter (Jan Josef Liefers), a washed-up actor, constantly reminisces over his stint as the lead in a detective TV show and sports a fedora for the film’s entirety. The young and handsome Max (Matthias Schweighöfer) relies on a steady supply of various tight-fitting turtlenecks to distinguish his character. Chris (Til Schweiger), an ex-boxer, perpetually looks like he hasn’t showered in a week and aggressively chews gum in scene after scene. The film is 60 percent plot and 40 percent filler (the latter constituted by Chris’ recurring urge to punch things at random moments and an overworked repartee of old jokes and pretty-boy jokes between Max, Peter, and Chris). However, the lack of creativity behind the characters’ creation renders them forgettable. Audiences don’t even receive the cheap glee of frenzied anxiousness over the heist comedy “will-they-or-won’t-they-get-caught” bit. The characters are too shapeless and the dialogue too on-the-nose to warrant investing interest, let alone worry.

The male-driven slapstick comedy wouldn’t be complete without a casually objectified woman of the workplace. In this case, she heads the bank’s investigative task force. Dr. Zoller (Antje Traue) — a stern, beautiful woman whose professionalism is multilaterally fetishized by her ogling male counterparts. This charming behavior may be acceptable on the part of the goofy protagonists, but certainly not when coming from the bad guy. The sleazy, womanizing Schumacher gets his just desserts when the four buddies frame him for their crime, arranging for Max to take Zoller on a dinner date as distraction. There’s even a flare of romance. Max ends up cracking the ice queen with his boyish charm and winning her over with his spiel on trading his trust fund for freedom.

Ultimately, it seems that 40 years of cogitation hasn’t done Peterson any good. The fact that the film was made as a remake of his own work makes it wholly more pathetic. Give it another 40, Wolfgang!

Grade: D-
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Starring: Til Schweiger, Matthias Schweighöfer, Michael Bully Herbig, Jan Josef Liefers, Antje Traue
Release Date: December 25, 2016 (Germany)
Rated: Unrated

Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.