Walkie-Talkie Robbery is a Job Done Right

    {grate 3} British whorehouses, John Lennon cameos, royal orgies — has
    a heist flick ever held so much promise? “The Bank Job,” penned by sitcom
    scribes Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, is an ambitious stab at crafting a
    movie for both the mid-20s AMC Everyman and those arthouse-goers craving
    cerebral stuff. Unfortunately, it stumbles somewhere into an unconvincing gray
    area, moving between sporadic splinters of violence and slow-moving plot
    clarifications.

    Granted, the plot is challenging to begin with — it’s a
    loose take (we’re talking off-the-hinges loose) on the real life “walkie-talkie
    robbery,” a government-concealed 1971 scandal involving amateur burglars who
    tunneled their way into the Central London Lloyd’s Bank and made off scot-free
    with a few million pounds.

    Such a golden nugget of untold history screams to be
    cinema-spun, and the screenwriters grab it and run, liberally infusing the tale
    with conceivable shockers as they go. The robbery is less about money swiping
    than a couple of compromising photos of an orgy-romping Princess Margaret. The
    snaps manage to fall into the hands of Michael X (Peter De Jersey), a disciple
    of his American black-power counterpart.

    Charged with retrieving the x-rated shots, a government spy
    cuts a deal with his modelesque girlfriend, Martine (the arresting, if not a
    tad impassive Saffron Barrows): rob the safe-deposit box, return the photos and
    keep the change. Problem is, she must find someone to play along without asking
    questions — and finds the perfect willing fool in her old flame, Terry (Jason
    Statham, familiar with the role of heist hero), a discontent car salesman with
    a family to feed. Along with mates Kevin (Stephen Campbell Moore) and ex-porn
    star Dave (the doe-eyed Daniel Mays), Terry agrees they’ve got nothing better
    going for them than to engage in some seemingly harmless criminal action. Plus,
    Martine is hot enough to convince pretty much anyone to rob a bank.

    If the film is largely dry of laugh-out-loud moments, its
    rare hysterics lie in the interactions between the unlikely band of robbers,
    trying to jackhammer their way under a Chicken Inn without seeming conspicuous
    to greasy-fingered customers, who are stupefied the moment their fried wings
    start mysteriously quaking. When the police begin to think something might be
    up, we wonder if the game is off — fortunately, the knock at the door is only
    an innocuous “chips” delivery from the Inn (oh, those charming Brits and their
    chips).

    But, while there are plenty of brief nudie scenes to satisfy
    the restless (Madame Sonia’s topless girls are a high point), the sexual
    tension between Terry and Martine is so thinly veiled that when they finally
    have their make-out moment in the safe, it’s only faintly stirring.

    Riches and naughty bits aside, other incriminating material
    is in the safe-deposit box to further twist the story — there’s also a list of
    all the bribes paid to the shady British police force by Lew Vogel (David
    Suchet).

    When word of the heist gets out, Vogel pursues the robbers
    who find the compromising ledger, adding to the quick-paced chaos that
    culminates in its aftermath (which takes the first half of the movie to explain
    and execute). Essentially, as Terry remarks so eloquently, “shit hits the proverbial
    fan.”

    Director Roger Donaldson is aware of the potential mess in
    such a complex screenplay, and manages to keep his audience on board most of
    the way; we glimpse the larger condition of Britain’s
    political frailty, and the intimate portraits of those caught within its cat’s
    cradle. The production designers channel early ’70s Brit style and London Soho
    in all its sideburned glory, capturing the murky hedonism of a foggy milieu.

    Most exciting is that we realize the story has yet to be
    completely unraveled; like an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries,” it ends on a
    perhaps-we’ll-never-know note. The police smother the press once the photos are
    retrieved and Terry returns to his wife in one piece, if not a little jarred.
    The heist is effectively pushed to the back pages of urban legend.

    The only standout flimsy spots are the moments where scribes
    Clement and La Frenais overzealously jam too many swinging plot threads and
    open-ended characters into one crowded frame. Still, we mostly accept it, even
    if we don’t quite know what’s going on for the majority of the time. “The Bank
    Job” might not take the biscuit, but it has more than enough bite to keep us
    awake.

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