Review: “How To Rob A Bank” (Film)

Well, it’s been a couple of weeks since I last reviewed a film. So, I thought that I’d check out a comedic heist movie from 2007 called “How To Rob A Bank (…And Tips To Actually Get Away With It)“.

This was mostly because I was in the mood for something a bit more light-hearted after spending a while playing “Silent Hill 3“. And, after looking for second-hand DVDs online, I ended up finding this one.

So, let’s take a look at “How To Rob A Bank”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS.

I don’t know why the cover art shows Nick Stahl holding a pistol. He’s completely unarmed for the whole film!

This film begins with a guy called Jinx (played by Nick Stahl) who is inside a locked bank vault with a hostage called Jessica (played by Erika Christensen). However, as soon as they begin talking, it quickly becomes apparent that Jessica is actually one of the bank robbers and Jinx is just a guy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yes, surprisingly, the sketchy-looking guy is actually the innocent bystander here.

Outside the vault, an armed bank robber called Simon (played by Gavin Rossdale) is absolutely furious about the fact that he can’t get into the vault. So, he calls Jessica… but Jinx picks up the phone instead. Needless to say, the two have quite a laugh about this bizarre misunderstanding and quickly become the best of friends:

Did I say “the best of friends”? I meant to say “bitter enemies”.

Of course, whilst all of this is going on, the police have finally shown up – led by Officer DeGepse (played by Terry Crews) who ends up talking to Jinx via mobile phone. Whilst all of this is going on, Jessica manages to trick DeGepse into thinking that she’s another hostage.

Reluctantly, Jinx goes along with it, before giving DeGepse Simon’s phone number. Simon is understandably annoyed that the cops have got his phone number, but DeGepse refuses to disclose who gave it to him (despite Simon guessing correctly rather quickly). But, then Jinx accidentally starts a conference call…

And, even more amusingly, Jinx tricks Simon into apologising to DeGepse, then tricks DeGepse into accepting the apology.

Needless to say, they’re all in a bit of a pickle….

One of the very first things that I will say about this film is that it isn’t really your typical Hollywood movie. In fact, it’s actually a low-mid budget independent film… and it is all the better for it!

Instead of flashy action sequences, the film focuses a lot more on dialogue, humour and clever plotting. Seriously, a good portion of the film is set within just one room and quite a bit of the film consists of people phoning each other… and it still manages to be a really interesting, and funny, film.

Unlike many heist movies, this one doesn’t focus that much on the elaborate (and mildly confusing) plot behind the heist but, instead, it begins “in medias res” and focuses more on Jinx and Jessica trying to figure out a sneaky way to get past both the other bank robbers and the cops. Although this film certainly contains a bit of suspense, it’s more of a clever comedy film than a thriller movie.

Most of the film consists of scenes like this… and it’s still a surprisingly good film!

And, yes, this film is funny. Although there are only a few “laugh out loud” moments, a lot of this film is filled with subtle humour, ironic humour and irreverent humour.

The bulk of the film’s humour comes from the surprisingly well-written dialogue (and the interactions between the characters in general) and the farcical premise of the film. There’s also a little bit of social satire, some amusing cutaway/flashback moments, some random 80s pop music references and a bit of slapstick comedy in order to keep the humour slightly varied.

For example, one of Simon’s henchmen has a malfunctioning pistol that keeps jamming throughout the film.

Although the film is a comedy, it still tries to squeeze in some endearingly cynical “Fight Club“-esque anti-corporation politics too. The most notable example of this being that the events of the film are set into motion because Jinx’s greedy bank has placed a surcharge on all ATM transactions, which means that he has to enter the bank to withdraw his last $20. And, yes, there are a couple of amusingly cynical speeches about this in the film.

One thing that helps to keep this film focused and interesting is the lean and efficient 78 minute running time. Unlike many Hollywood films, this film actually seems to have an editor and it is all the better for it. Although the film’s pacing sags a little during a couple of scenes, the compact running time helps to ensure that the story keeps moving and the audience remains interested.

Another cool thing about this film is that it was made in the pre-smartphone era. So, all of the mobile phones in this film are good old-fashioned flip phones (which used to be really cool 10-20 years ago) and they’re actually used as phones too. There’s no mobile internet, no “apps” or any of that nonsense. Seriously, there isn’t even any texting. There’s just three groups of people talking to each other on the phone. This helps to keep the film compellingly focused. Seriously, this film just wouldn’t work if the characters were using modern smartphones.

Surprisingly, the film’s flip-phones are also camera phones, but this feature thankfully isn’t used (mostly since some of the clever ruses in the film rely on the absence of cameras).

Another interesting thing about this film is how it handles moral ambiguity. Jinx is originally an innocent bystander, but he soon realises that joining in with the heist might help him get out of the bank. Likewise, although Jessica is initially a rather bitter and villainous character, she ends up being something of a “good criminal” after she realises that she’s in the same situation as Jinx.

So, yes, there’s actual character development in this film.

Likewise, Jessica’s mysterious boss – Nick – also seems to be something of a reluctantly “good” criminal as the film progresses.

Amusingly both DeGepse and Simon are both weary and cynical characters. In a way, they are literally polar opposites of each other, yet also have a lot in common in their amusingly frustrated attitudes towards the situation.

Seriously, I cannot praise the characters in this film enough! Although there isn’t a huge amount of deep characterisation, the characters come across as being somewhat more “realistic” than the characters in an average Hollywood movie. Likewise, a lot of what makes this film so good is the dynamics and interactions between the characters.

Of course, most of those interactions take place over a phone line – but they’re still amusing and/or compelling.

In terms of lighting, set design and special effects, this film is a little on the minimalist side. The bank vault is a fairly featureless white room and the bank just looks like an old American bank. Although, I noticed something eerily surprising about one of the film’s props…

OMG! I’ve just realised that the computer monitor for the bank’s CCTV is exactly the same type of monitor as the monitor on the computer I’m typing this review on!

The film has very few special effects and, aside from some clunky CGI renderings of the vault door mechanism, the film’s few practical effects work reasonably well. Likewise, although the lighting in this film is mostly fairly “ordinary”, there are a couple of moments of beautifully gloomy lighting here.

Amusingly, some cheaper mobile phones that were around in the mid-late 2000s actually had a LED torch feature – so, you didn’t have to use the screen as a torch.

Musically speaking, most of the film’s soundtrack isn’t very memorable. However, the ending credits are graced with a Duran Duran song which, when you’ve seen the film, will make a lot more sense.

All in all, this is a funny heist movie which relies more on well-written dialogue, well-written characters and clever plotting than on fast-paced action in order to remain compelling. It’s very different from the average Hollywood movie and is really interesting as a result.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

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