Inside Man, May 06


BY NEIL FAUERSO

Spike Lee recently hit the nadir of his career with She Hate Me, undoubtedly one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Equal parts overt sexist fantasia and bong-hit pattern recognition, She Hate Me showcased the flaws lurking in a lot of Lee’s work: lackadaisical social and “controversial” themes amidst the crassest objectification of women this side of Russ Meyer (who at least was funny about it).

Luckily, Lee must have sensed that he was becoming the filmic equivalent of a drunk guy screaming obscene ramblings at a party, and decided to make Inside Man, a decidedly mediocre yet fairly pleasant heist flick. Inside Man may mark Lee’s foray into vaguely hip and political, middle-of-the road popcorn films, but I prefer that to the train-wreck Lee, whose recent “serious” films (25th Hour, She Hate Me) come across as different forms of career suicide.

Inside Man harkens back to the elaborate yet gentle heist films of the ’70s, like The Sting and The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3. A group of robbers comes into a bank dressed as painters, seals the bank up, and dresses the hostages in the same painting outfits. It’s up to fast talking and clever hostage negotiator Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) to outwit Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), the heist’s mastermind. Meanwhile, the bank’s owner (Christopher Plummer) has something in one of his safe deposit boxes he does not want found and hires a silver-tongued fix-it extraordinaire, Madeline White (Jodie Foster), to the solve the situation.

Inside Man moves along nicely until it reaches its so-called climax, and then continues on for 45 more minutes. This essentially summarizes the movie: there is very little to say about it beyond the fact that it is reasonably entertaining and overlong. The little post-911 observations of NYC life feel hurried and dashed off. Inside Man is transparently Lee trying to regain some commercial status after the bomb of She Hate Me.

The performances follow suit. Washington is becoming a rare bird: he essentially is the same in every movie, regardless of whether his character is good, bad, bitter, or a wise guy. That he is believable in all of these roles may be more due to the homogeneous nature of most scripts rather than his acting abilities. Jodie Foster is approaching the record for mailing-in performances, with Sean Connery still the reigning champ. Only Clive Owen is magnetic, a testament to his expansive charm.

Inside Man is part of a new trend in Hollywood movies, films that are R-rated, reasonably intelligent, and predictable. I wouldn’t exactly call them good films, but they are a step in the right direction.

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