As a fact-inspired adventure that includes royal sexcapades, a high-society murder and one of the biggest robberies in British history, among other colorful bits and bangs, “The Bank Job” has enough going for it, when spun by director Roger Donaldson, to make for an engaging heist flick and period trip.
Thick with plot, peppered with scandal, and dripping with recent history, it’s popcorn cinema with something resembling a brain wave.
But it is essentially another robbery tale in a genre arena filled with such fare. And as such, it’s unextraordinary.
Donaldson combines Alec Guinness-style antics, Guy Ritchie-style grit and political-thriller ingredients to dramatize the so-called walkie-talkie job — the 1971 robbery of safe-deposit boxes at Lloyds of London on Baker Street.
The contents were valued at millions and allegedly included naughty sexual photos of a British royal. Discovered by a ham radio operator who intercepted the lookout signal, the crime quickly vanished from the news, apparently hushed by the government.
Jason Statham (“The Transporter,” “Crank”) plays Terry, a married-with-kids car-lot dealer who, recruited by ex-lover Martine (Saffron Burroughs), assembles a team to rob the safe-deposit boxes at the Lloyds bank.
Terry and company don’t know that Martine is working for MI5 and that the spy agency is staging the robbery to obtain the royal sex photos. The pictures are in the possession of gangster and black-power leader Michael X (Peter De Jersey), in a safe-deposit box.
Things get brutal when the robbers find themselves hunted by MI5, Michael X and vicious porn king Lew Vogel (David Suchet) en route to the chase-filled climax.
For sure, this is an agreeable movie, and Donaldson, whose mixed track record includes “No Way Out” and “Cocktail,” juggles numerous characters with clarity. Scenes involving the dirty business people keep in bank boxes are entertaining.
Screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais capture the mood of the early 1970s, when radicals like Michael X — whose real-life murder of a prominent politician’s daughter is addressed — hobnobbed with posh folk.
But overall, it’s pretty standard, and the action is too low-pilot to be thrilling. The characters lack the dimension of those of “Sexy Beast” or the cool of the “Ocean’s Eleven” gang. Except for Suchet’s smarmy Vogel, the performances aren’t gripping. Perhaps because of the material’s real-life connections, Donaldson seems hesitant to get vibrant.
That said, the movie’s still an adequate good time. But it should have sizzled.
The Bank Job
Starring Jason Statham, Saffron Burroughs, David Suchet, Peter De Jersey
Written by Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais
Directed by Roger Donaldson
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes