As the title alone suggests, “The Bank Job” is a solid, no-nonsense heist thriller, yet one that ultimately fails to distinguish itself from the many others of the genre.
It has none of the cinematic pyrotechnics of a Guy Ritchie picture, but it also lacks the stylish cool of a “Sexy Beast,” for example.
Australian director Roger Donaldson (“The Recruit,” “Thirteen Days”), working from a script by the veteran British team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, has crafted a respectable mix of fact and fiction inspired by the 1971 robbery of a Lloyds Bank in London. At the time, the tabloids referred to the crime as the “Walkie-Talkie Robbery,” and “The Bank Job” authentically evokes the period without drowning in cultural kitsch.
Force-of-nature Jason Statham, star of the “Transporter” movies (and a Ritchie favorite), plays the vividly named Terry Leather, a used-car dealer with a criminal past. He and some of his amateur thug pals get roped into robbing the bank’s vault by seductive ex-model Martine Love (the stunning Saffron Burrows), a friend of theirs from the neighborhood and a former flame of Terry’s before he settled down for a quiet life with a wife and a couple of kids.
Martine herself has been roped into organizing the heist by her married lover (Richard Lintern), a member of the British intelligence agency MI5. He wants her to retrieve some potentially scandalous photos of someone in the royal family, which are stashed inside a safe deposit box in the vault.
The requisite collection of colorful supporting characters includes a smut peddler, a part-time porn star, a black-power con man and some seriously hypocritical aristocrats. Because besides the millions of pounds’ worth of cash and jewels locked within those generic boxes, there’s also some heavily incriminating information that gets out once the thieves break in.
But these guys aren’t exactly professionals, which “The Bank Job” plays for some mildly amusing laughs. There’s Dave (Daniel Mays), who’s — um — so well-endowed that he’s made a couple of movies on the side for extra cash; Kevin (Stephen Campbell Moore), a photographer who’s still secretly in love with Martine after all these years; and Eric (Michael Jibson), Terry’s guileless employee who serves as the lookout from a rooftop across the street.
(As they’re testing out the walkie-talkies for the first time, Dave admonishes: “No names, Eddie.” Eddie responds: “Sorry, Dave.”)
There’s something sort of charming, though, about the fact that they not as clever as they think they are, yet they’re not depicted as broad stereotypes. They rent out an abandoned handbag store two doors down from the bank to tunnel through with picks and shovels, methodically removing the dirt one bucket at a time, but they’re still not prepared for the various wrinkles that arise. And the more people they add to their operation, the more they put themselves in danger.
The chief villain ends up being strip-club owner Lew Vogel (a believably skeevy David Suchet), who’s kept a ledger of every payment he’s made to police for protection. That’s inside the vault, as are photographs of powerful, stodgy white men in various compromising positions, and of course the pictures that prompted the robbery in the first place, which were shot in the Caribbean and which Michael X (Peter de Jersey) is using as protection for his own criminal activities. (As one character so eloquently puts it, he’s a “crazy, dope-smoking, lunatic pimp extortionist.”)
It’s all sufficiently brisk and engaging as it’s going on, and afterward you certainly won’t feel ripped off. But you won’t feel any differently, either.