Review: Inside Man

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Worse, Spike pulls a few fairly preposterous rabbits out of his hat, bizarre, 11th hour developments that are impossible to anticipate and make no sense. It’s like investing two hours in a whodunit only to discover that a butler who was barely in the picture did it. Worst of all, he squanders the services of a most-talented cast which, besides Denzel, Clive and Chiwetel, includes Jodi Foster, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Plummer. A potboiler that never even reaches room temperature.

Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) hasn’t experienced much excitement at work lately. The demoted NYPD detective has been stuck behind a desk since becoming the subject of a corruption scandal in the wake of the disappearance of $140,000 in cash.

And he has no reason to expect that anything different is in store the steamy summer day that a gang of four bank robbers dressed in overalls emerges from the “Perfectly Planned Painting� panel truck and proceeds to hold up the Manhattan Trust Company. But this is no conventional “take-the-money-and-run� heist, but an elaborate, surgically-executed scheme designed by Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), the conspirators’ cool, calm and collected ringleader.

When Dalton and company deliberately barricade themselves inside the bank with about 50 customers and employees, the place is soon surrounded by a phalanx of cops and a standoff ensues. With his precinct’s hostage negotiator out on vacation, it falls to Frazier and his partner, Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor), to ensure the safe release of the kidnap victims.

This is the promising premise of Inside Man, a multi-layered mystery directed by Spike Lee. Unfortunately, this over-plotted crime caper soon becomes bogged down by a boring absence of action or intrigue, as the beleaguered detective and the crafty mastermind engage in a meaningless mental game of cat-and-mouse.

Relying on a psychological cinematic device is advisable only when working with a well-crafted script capable of maintain a palpable tension throughout the duration. Inside Man, to the contrary, is marked more by an absence of urgency, which renders the repeated scenes of policemen poised with pistols at the ready ridiculous. They may as well be standing around holding coffee and donuts, given the tame goings-on.

The problems don’t stop there either. Inexplicably, the lead characters frequently resort to one-liners and sappy philosophizing. For instance, at one juncture, a frustrated Frazier sarcastically says of his adversary, “I got him right where I want him: standing right behind me with my pants around my ankles.� While a joke like that might elicit a big laugh, such comic asides simultaneously do the film a disservice by undercutting the picture’s serious tone. Dalton, on the other hand, pauses to tell the father of an eight year-old with a Gameboy that violent video games are bad for his son, and to inform another of his captives that “Money can’t buy love.�

Worse, Spike pulls a few fairly preposterous rabbits out of his hat, bizarre, 11th hour developments that are impossible to anticipate and make no sense. It’s like investing two hours in a whodunit only to discover that a butler who was barely in the picture did it. Worst of all, he squanders the services of a most-talented cast which, besides Denzel, Clive and Chiwetel, includes Jodi Foster, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Plummer.
A potboiler that never even reaches room temperature.

Fair (1 star)
R for profanity and violence
Running time: 129 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

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