MOVIE REVIEW- No hand for ‘Job': Suspense missing in heist film

a still from this week's film"Based on a true story," like every movie of 2007 except Transformers and maybe Ratatouille, The Bank Job is not as generic as its title. It strips the heist movie formula to its bare bones, then fleshes it out with bits of royal hanky-panky and the black power movement, c. 1971.

Steve WarrenJason Statham, who is practically the last action hero, stars as Terry, a happily married car dealer who's offered a way out of debt by a standard-issue femme fatale, Martine Love (Saffron Burrows). She was part of the old neighborhood crowd but never hooked up with Terry, despite sexual tension that continues to this day.

Martine doesn't tell Terry she's working for Tim Everett (Richard Lintern) of "MI5 or 6," only that she's been tipped off by a boyfriend that a certain bank's security system will be down for a week, the perfect opportunity for someone to break into the vault and rob safe deposit boxes of "money and jewels that are safe to steal because the people won't report it." What the government really wants is compromising photos of "a royal personage" that are being used as a bargaining wedge by activist Michael X (Peter De Jersey), "the black Robin Hood of Notting Hill." Another spy, Gale Benson (Hattie Morahan), is planted in X's camp as girlfriend to author Hakim Jamal (Colin Salmon).

This vault is also home to photos of other important people taken without their knowledge in a brothel, and an account book of payoffs to police by Lew Vogel (David Suchet), "the porn king of Soho"; so there's a lot more at stake than Terry knows about.

Involved in only the pettiest of crime until now, Terry recruits equally inexperienced old friends Dave (Daniel Mays) and Kevin (Stephen Campbell Moore). Dave, coincidentally, has appeared in some porn films for Vogel. Terry also brings in Bambas (Alki David), a tunneling expert, and Guy Singer (James Faulkner), a respectable-appearing con man who can act as their front to lease a shop near the bank from which to dig. Another old friend, Eddie (Michael Jibson), is offered the car dealership in exchange for his services as lookout.

In addition to the usual complications during the planning and the theft itself, a local ham radio operator overhears their walkie-talkie communications and alerts the police to a crime in progress. (This may be the only true aspect of the screenplay, other than the robbery itself.)

The heist isn't just the beginning, but it's about the middle, with a lot more to follow. Basically there are three groups chasing the thieves. The government spies want their photos and to be sure word of their existence never gets out. The honest police simply want to apprehend the perps, while the dishonest police are working with Vogel to retrieve his incriminating ledger.

Though it runs a little under two hours, The Bank Job feels much longer because of all its complications. Simplicity enables suspense, which is virtually buried in this plot. Terry and his crew aren't especially lovable, but they're our heroes because everyone else is so evil or self-righteous or whatever else makes these guys look good by comparison.

With a default action star leading a band of default heroes, it's not entirely de fault of director Roger Donaldson that The Bank Job isn't more exciting than it is. If there's not another new caper flick this week, this is the best one by default; but it's oceans away from the Ocean's movies, at least the first two.