It's an inside 'Job'

In 'The Bank Job,' a used-car dealer and a motley crew of London criminals play into a shadowy, state-run plot.

East Ender: Jason Statham (r.) stars as a used-car-dealer-turned mastermind in the efficient heist film, 'The Bank Job.'

The heist movie is one of my favorite genres. This is another way of saying that I am willing to cut a mediocre bank robbery movie more slack than, say, a mediocre ninja movie.

"The Bank Job" is several cuts above mediocre, so the slack expended is fairly minimal. The credits say that it is "inspired by" a true story – a come-on that is also a disclaimer. Although the characters' names have been changed and, in some cases, their identities fabricated altogether, the basic outline of this famous 1971 London heist – dubbed the "Walkie-Talkie Robbery" – is truthful.

The heist involved the looting of the safety deposit boxes in the main vault of Lloyd's Bank by a team of comparative amateurs led by a used-car dealer who, here, is given the flavorful monicker Terry Leather (Jason Statham). And they did it the old-fashioned way – by burrowing underground with pick-axes and shovels and blow torches.

What gives the robbery its fascination is that, as director Roger Donaldson and screenwriter Dick Clement delineate it, Britain's MI5 and MI6, unbeknownst to the crooks, actually set up the job.

The goal was to get the robbers to eliminate incriminating evidence against the royal family held in the vaults by a black power gangster, Michael X (Peter de Jersey), in order to prosecute him. All of which may explain why, four days after the robbery was reported in the press, it suddenly and mysteriously ceased to be a story. (This kind of blackout could never happen today. Could it?)

Terry's gang is a grab bag of oddballs, including Dave (Daniel Mays), a part-time porno star and Kevin, Terry's best friend and a cut-rate fashion photographer. At times they seem assembled from one of the old "Carry On" comedies. The glamour is provided by an old girlfriend of Terry's, Martine Love – these made-up names are a bit much! – who is played by Saffron Burrows as if she were posing for a lingerie ad even while tunnelling beneath Baker Street.

The acting honors, such as they are, go to David Suchet, best known for his TV portrayal of Hercule Poiret but equally adept at playing miscreants. Here he's Lew Vogel, the head of the porn industry in Soho with some incriminating material of his own in that vault. Suchet doesn't overdo the sliminess. You can see in this pseudo-elegant kingpin the East End tough he once was.

"The Bank Job" is nothing more than an efficient time-killer with the added bonus of being based on a real misadventure. But, unlike its benighted cast of characters, it gets the job done without a hitch. Grade: B

Rated R for sexual content, nudity, violence and language.

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