How to Rob a Bank

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Los Angeles Film Festival

It seems especially depressing when so-called independent filmmakers have nothing on their minds except aping the style of Hollywood's hip caper movies. Such is the case with "How to Rob a Bank," a film recently showcased at the Los Angeles Film Festival that would be more at home at the grindhouse or on the back shelves at a video store, where it will wind up soon enough.

Despite having such semi-name performers as Nick Stahl and Erika Christensen in the cast, this film has zero boxoffice potential. It bears resemblance to Spike Lee's "Inside Man," as well as to the short-lived TV series "The Nine." Both of those were about bank heists, told in somewhat jumbled chronological order, just like this new film from writer-director Andrews Jenkins.

The story begins with Jinx (Stahl) and Jessica (Christensen) locked in the vault of a bank. But which of them is the bank robber and which is the hostage? Their roles reverse a few times as the story unfolds. Each of them wants to get out of the vault with a pile of loot, and to do this, they must communicate with the other bank robbers holding a group of hostages in the lobby of the bank, and with the police who are gathered outside. There's another party to placate -- a Mr. Big (David Carradine) who has engineered the whole robbery.

The first problem with the movie is its claustrophobic setting. Jenkins tries to surmount this with a lot of flashy camera angles, fast cuts and split-screen effects, but to no avail. We're still trapped with the characters for much of the movie in a confined setting. Instead of ratcheting up the tension, this confinement produces overwhelming tedium.

A good deal of the movie consists of people talking on cell phones, not the most inherently electrifying cinematic activity. The scenes outside the vault fail to build any excitement. When the cops finally storm the bank at the movie's climax, the action is so poorly staged that we can't tell exactly what happened.

Suspense is minimal, so that leaves a lot up to the actors, who do their best with underwritten roles. Stahl is convincing enough as a disgruntled slacker who wants to protest our bureaucratic society, but we never really warm to him. Christensen has fun with her teasing bad-girl role, but she could use some wittier dialogue.

Supporting players -- including Carradine and Gavin Rossdale as the leader of the bank robbers -- are merely adequate. Technically, the movie is glossy without being effective. What's most disturbing about "Bank" is its lack of ambition. Maybe Jenkins will take more chances in the future. If he's lucky, this stinker will be quickly forgotten.

HOW TO ROB A BANK
Rick Lashbrook Films, Williamsburg Media Cult & Villa Entertainment
Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Andrews Jenkins
Producers: Rick Lashbrook, Darby Parker, Arthur Sarkissian, Tim O'Hair
Executive producers: Randolph De Lano, Tamara De Lano, Peter Sussman
Director of photography: Joseph Meade
Production designer: Max Biscoe
Music: Didier Lean Rachou
Co-producer: Brent Morris
Costume designer: Birgitte Mann
Editors: M. Scott Smith, Dennis M. Hill
Cast:
Jason "Jinx" Taylor: Nick Stahl
Jessica: Erika Christensen
Simon: Gavin Rossdale
Officer DeGepse: Terry Crews
Nick: David Carradine
Gunman: Leo Fitzpatrick
Officer Linstrom: Adriano Aragon
Running time -- 81 minutes
No MPAA rating
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