Inside Man (review)

Get new reviews in your email in-box or in an app by becoming a paid Substack subscriber or Patreon patron.

No Money Shot

As a hot-blooded movie-loving gal, I never wanna have to say something like this, particularly about a movie featuring such delicious specimens of manliness as both Clive Owen and Denzel Washington, but Inside Man is a lousy lay.

What? Don’t look at me like that. It’s true. This is a heist movie with a “big surprise” — it’s supposed to be all about getting you all worked up, getting you all hot and bothered and caught up in the relentless drive to the big electrifying finale. And it does that, the bastard, the working up and the hot-and-bothering, but then it finishes in, frankly, a rather anticlimactic way, and it doesn’t care if you didn’t get anything out of it at all.
It’s such a tease, buying you drinks and whispering sweet nothings in your ear for a good long while, surprising you by turning out not to have been such a desperate slut for your attention that it gave away everything in the trailer. And it’s Spike Lee (25th Hour), who’s usually good for some hot sexy film fun, all clever and brainy and provocative like he is. Inside Man is a real throaty snarky NYC film, all rainbow melting pot of characters and attitudes and accents, all working-class cops who roll their eyes at one another in that can-you-believe-this-jerk way at the ultra-rich financier (Christopher Plummer: Must Love Dogs, Alexander) who tries to smarm his way into the police investigation of the hostage-and-heist situation in progress at the snooty bank he’s owned since the time of Adam. Ya gotta love that, the hard-working flatfoots in uniform who’re probably calculating that the overtime on this one might let them put away a little more for the kids’ college, and they’re so unimpressed with this rich idiot with his Euro suave and bespoke suits.

The cop side of Inside Man is pretty damn seductive, and not just because of Washington (The Manchurian Candidate, Man on Fire) deploying his effortless urbanity as the detective in charge of getting those hostages out of the bank with hopefully none of them dead… or because of the luscious (but sadly underutilized) Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity, Love Actually) as his partner, or because of the sneakily alluring Willem Dafoe (XXX: State of the Union, The Aviator) as another cop they butt heads with. But there’s a grudging respect among all of them, too, and in one hilarious scene, they all get into a raucous friendly argument about the semantics of talking about how trains travel through Grand Central Terminal. It’s such a perfectly observed Noo Yawk moment — the script is by first-timer Russell Gewirtz — and I could have watched those cops forever.

The robbers, though? Not so much. Even with the walking sex of Clive Owen (The Pink Panther, Derailed) as the chief thief. His plan for getting in and out of the bank is pretty much right outta Quick Change but with less Bill Murray-style wiseacreing (Washington’s detective prefers to invoke Dog Day Afternoon), and his real reason for attacking the bank of course has nothing to do with money… or not much, anyway, cuz this is a postmodern heist film that knows we’ve all seen every heist film ever made and need more than a merely greedy bad guy to keep our interest.

And that’s the biggest tease of all: we expect the ante to be upped by a new heist film, and Inside Man doesn’t do that. It hauls in the elegance of Jodie Foster (Flightplan, Panic Room) as an agent for Plummer’s banking magnate, throwing her into the mix on neither quite the cops’ side nor the robbers’, but the spin her character is supposed to provide barely gets spun before she’s discarded — Foster might as well not even be here. And when we learn the real motive of the very poorly developed team of thieves, it’s so unexplored that it might as well not be there, either… and the concept of it is so clichéd — and almost too anachronistic — that it occurred to me almost instantly early in the film and I dismissed it as, you know, too clichéd. Hell, I might have been happy if the damn title had ended up making any sense. Which it doesn’t.

Inside Man keeps flopping away long past the point at which its exertions are doing anyone any good. It just peters out with a kind of smugly satisfied smirk that says, “You didn’t enjoy that? Tough. I got off.” And then it rolls over and goes to sleep and leaves you there feeling mystified and frustrated and confused and pretty damn pissed off.

share and enjoy
If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
If you haven’t commented here before, your first comment will be held for MaryAnn’s approval. This is an anti-spam, anti-troll measure. If you’re not a spammer or a troll, your comment will be approved, and all your future comments will post immediately.
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
view all comments
Bob Aman
Sat, Mar 25, 2006 5:48pm

It should also be noted, that for a supposedly very smart bank robber, Clive Owen chose a really stupid item to steal.

Tim Gowen
Tim Gowen
Mon, Mar 27, 2006 2:29pm

The title baffled me for a while too, but it makes sense in the end. I thought the film was pretty good, but not really a heist-movie genre film, which must be difficult to do in a surprising way since there are so many.