Regarding Jason Statham: I suppose a man can't wipe the floor with stunt extras forever. If you keep sticking a camera in his face, at some point he'll want to act. And what we've learned from last year's "Revolver" and today's "The Bank Job" is that Statham is more a man of action than of acting. Unless he can kick, spin, run, jump, choke, kill, or drive really fast, he's an emotional black hole. What was said about the far more charismatic Burt Reynolds loosely applies to Jason Statham: At 60 miles an hour, he's a star.
He doesn't go half that fast in "The Bank Job," a soundly generic heist-gone-wrong movie loosely based on the true story of a 1971 London robbery. Statham is Terry, a family man and car salesman who owes the wrong people money. Conveniently, a gorgeous old friend named Martine (Saffron Burrows) appears and offers him "the big score." She's up to her neck in cheekbones and up to her cheekbones in deception.
What she hasn't told her old mate is that she has proposed this operation on behalf of the intelligence agency MI5, who'd like the contents of a certain safe-deposit box: compromising sex photos of the royal family. The box belongs to the Caribbean-born, London-based revolutionary Michael X (Peter De Jersey), who has been holding onto the photos to keep MI5 off his back. The best parts of this movie are the overheated description of Michael X in the script written by the longtime British duo Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. Someone calls him a "crazy, dope-smoking, lunatic pimp extortionist." That's a ringing advertisement for the movie I'd rather be watching.
Instead, we see Terry and his crew of petty-thief buddies tunneling into the bank vault, and the Australian director Roger Donaldson delivers these sequences with the commendable, if forgettable, professionalism you'd expect from the man who also made "Cocktail," "Species," and "Dante's Peak." Donaldson is a good director, but with "The Bank Job" it's hard to tell where his interests really lie. The Black Power stuff devolves into sensationalistic nonsense. The less said about the scenes from Terry's fractured marriage the better, especially coming from Donaldson, who made one of the greatest relationship films (1981's "Smash Palace"). And the heist, with its latticework of double-crosses, never pops.
Only when it's time for Statham to hurt people, in the last 10 or so minutes do "The Bank Job" and its star really demonstrate personality. The movie doesn't hang together as a thriller, and the characters don't hang together as interesting people. Is this a work of realism or does the movie fancy itself a cartoon? Is it Jules Dassin's smoky nail-biter "Rififi" or one of Guy Ritchie's crime trifles? Either way, it's something new for heist pictures: a movie that can't even rip off its predecessor with any panache.
Wesley Morris can be reached at email@example.com.