Beware of getting jobbed by the ‘Inside Man’
Perhaps the true test of an actor’s skills is seeing to what degree he or she can lift a film despite being given mediocre material. They don’t give awards for these types of MVP performances. With an A-list cast so deep that Oscar winners are getting 4th and 5th billing, and with the always intriguing (if not consistent) Spike Lee at the helm, “Inside Man” should have been this year’s first great film.
And with temperatures outside on the rise, it’s time things at the Cineplex to begin to heat up too. Alas, this groundhog critic has emerged to break the sad news: “Inside Man” ain’t so hot, and it looks like were in for at least a few more weeks of under-the-weather cinema.
“Inside Man” starts strong, as masked intruders enter a downtown Manhattan bank, AK-47s flailing, knocking out the security cameras, throwing smoke bombs, taking hostages& Typical stuff done with an engaging flair, with Clive Owen as the compelling leader who informs us during the prologue he’s planning the perfect bank robbery.
Enter the scene veteran detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington), and partner Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor). While orchestrating negotiations, Frazier shows himself to be a likable, smart cop who happens to be under a bit of scrutiny himself. He’s played with the kind of gritty charisma that Washington oozes like few others.
Willem Dafoe is the on-scene police Captain, Christopher Plummer is the elderly bank owner with a dark secret hidden away in his now compromised safe deposit box, and Jodie Foster is a sort of high stakes, go-to problem solver whose leverage is shrouded in impeccably dressed mystery.
Lee’s involvement is both good and bad news for this blockbuster cast party. Yes, there are a few scenes that give the formula a much needed street vibe freshness, including some of Lee’s trademark racial edginess. But at about the one-hour mark, when the heist seems to arrive at a stalemate (and so too our interest), it becomes clear that Lee’s peripheral plotlines exist to cover the major holes in the films suprisingly predictable and completely unoriginal culmination of events.
No fewer than three major foreshadows detail the who, what, and how of the bad guys modus operandi. And the age-old device they use will seem cunning only to neophytes of this genre. (Which apparently includes our oblivious detectives). Two other distractions that do nothing to embellish the film substantively are the inclusion of rampant profanity, and an extraordinary supply of good-looking women, especially among the ranks of the supposedly random bank customers. Maybe they were on break from a Victoria’s Secret commercial shoot nearby.
I’m a believer in the Woody Allen school of venue references. A backdrop should be just that –a backdrop– and it should serve to supplement the story (like a soundtrack), not call attention to itself. Mr. Lee obviously loves The Big Apple, and feels otherwise. If “Inside Man” were the debut of a young filmmaker it would get a certain pass, but with the credibility of those involved we should and do expect much, much more.
Rated R for pervasive language and violence.