'Breaking the Bank': Dubai Review

Breaking the Bank Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Dubai International Film Festival

Breaking the Bank Still - H 2014

A few good laughs from the leads is all the payoff you get in this improbable finance yarn

Kelsey Grammer sports a British accent in a light comedy that raps the knuckles of the banking community

A banker with a heart of gold may not be the happiest choice of hero these days, and most audiences will be more frustrated than satisfied with the wishy-washy way the light British comedy Breaking the Bank points a wavering finger at ruthless international bankers for causing the world financial crisis now in progress. Whereas an intelligent comedy-thriller like Johnnie To’s Life Without Principle exposed the world of investment banking while lampooning it, here everybody gets whitewashed by the end. The film's main asset is Kelsey Grammer, America’s celebrated Frasier sporting a very credible British accent as a member of the upper crust and the accidental president of a family-run London bank. But despite some nicely written one-liners, mainly heard in his barbed exchanges with co-star Tamsin Greig as his castrating wife, Grammer's investment in the role yields the kind of gentle sitcom humor best enjoyed on small screens by an older demographic.

Written by former banker Roger Devlin and directed by Vadim Jean (Jiminy Glick in Lalawood), the film has a blithe old-world look brightened by some amusing performances. In the post-Wolf of Wall Street world, there’s something very back-to-the-future about the filmmakers’ attempt to educate viewers on selling short, using bananas as a teaching tool. Instead of criminals in Oxford suits sitting in the oak-lined board room, we find a gaggle of bumbling London curmudgeons who haven’t the faintest clue how to run the 200-year-old Tufton’s Bank, especially the man in the big swivel chair, Sir Charles Bunberry (Grammer.)  A sports-minded blue blood who conveniently married money in the form of Penelope Tufton (a superbly acidic Greig), he keeps out of harm’s way on the golf course or behind the ping pong table where he entertains his Japanese opponent (Togo Igawa). The only would-be wolf in his office is the obnoxious young Nick (Mathew Horne), a cynical investment banker on the rise who’s too over-the-top to be scary.  

But one day, sharky Yank wheeler-dealer Richard Grinding (an amazingly stereotyped John Michael Higgins) hops across the pond to make Tuftons a buyout offer. Though it’s promptly rejected by the haughty old-money Brits, Charles decides to make a wildly ill-advised investment that sends the bank into a tailspin. Since Penelope wears the pants in the family and makes all the astute corporate decisions, it’s hard to understand why she’s AWOL playing homemaker while Rome burns. Not only is the bank lost in the first half hour of the film, but so is the couple's woodsy manse, Rolls and other customary amenities. Worst of all, Penny walks out on Charles after smashing his prize golf club, sending him gallantly marching to the Thames to end it all like some tipsy millionaire in a Chaplin film.

Either the salute to classic movies is part of Jean's directing style, or there is a lot of deja vu going on here. Grammer flaunts a funny-sophisticated savoir faire tipping his hat to Cary Grant, and keeps a firm hold on Sir Charles's dignity even when forced to sell his shoes and sleep on the street. Luckily he's befriended by baneful street person Oscar (Pearce Quigley), who sells stock market tips for a pound and supposedly embodies the human face of recession-wracked England. Their fast-moving dialogue is punchy and well delivered, and has a few inspired jokes. Alas, not so the lackluster subplot revolving around Charles' and Penny's anti-establishment daughter and her long-haired friends, who truly seem to have popped out of a sixties TV spoof. If their purpose is to offer a chorus of criticism on the banking world, they're naive to the point of being cringeworthy.

This hippie gang is poorly worked into the grand finale where Charles attempts to turn the tables on the evil (well, not really) Grinding and stage a professional and personal comeback with Penelope. Another character left dangling from a plot thread is nerdy young financial analyst Graham (Danny Morgan), antagonist and punching ball for the pushy Nick. The screen time frittered away on Graham’s unfunny attempts to lose his virginity could have been better spent on just about anything.

In any case, audiences should enjoy seeing Grammer playing a Brit with such relaxed nonchalance, and his scenes with the versatile comedienne and stage actress Greig are thoroughly delightful. The production itself looks shot on a shoestring, where street views of stretch limos and massive buildings stand in for wealth.

Production company: Black Hangar Studios
Kelsey Grammer, John Michael Higgins, Tamsin Greig, Mathew Horne, Julie Dray
Director: Vadim Jean
Screenwriter: Roger Devlin
Producer: Jake Seal
Executive producer: Jonathan Evans
Director of photography: Oliver Curtis

Production designer: Caroline Greville-Morris
Costume designer: Scott Langridge
Editor: Jason Gourson
Music: David Buckley
Casting: Manuel Puro

No rating, 98 minutes