U.S. Release Date: March 24, 2006
Distributor: Universal
Director: Spike Lee
Producer: Brian Grazer, Jon Kilik (executive)
Composer: Terence Blanchard
Cast: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Plummer
Running Time: 2 hours and 8 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (language and some violent images)

New York Heist Pic Nothing But Random Rants
by Scott Holleran

Steer clear of the latest movie about nothing, Inside Man, which is more of that pretentious Crash and Closer formula, where characters speak in random, barely audible, incoherent rants. This is trash with a flashy cast, a jerky camera and a pace that feels like The English Patient on Valium.

For starters, people don't talk this way, which would be fine, even desirable, if what they were saying was interesting. But, from cops to hostages, the movie's band of unruly Manhattanites talk like they're on Rikers Island, which happens to be one of the many reference points the movie uses to prove it hasn't gone Uptown. But it has, and it does, piping polished vulgarities out of characters that aren't worth a spit.

Even the good guys spew pretty little f-words—and, this being directed by Spike Lee, one carefully planted use of the N word—and there is but one child in all of New York City, a bored Brooklyn kid for whom the bank robbery is what happens between violent video games.

The audience is held hostage in this picture, which features bald Denzel Washington pulling the same macho routine, Clive Owen as a bank robber and Jodie Foster as a mysteriously powerful, ponytailed New York Woman. Other victims include Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Christopher Plummer, apparently on hand for the sole purpose of desecrating his role in The Sound of Music. They have all done better work.

With one of those talky scripts and, of course, indiscriminately applied racism, Inside Man is more convoluted than a Dubai port deal. It grabs, pulls and pleads to be deeper than it is, setting up a heavily scored siege out of Die Hard—in which the victims are costumed like the criminals—and bringing in Mr. Washington as a jacked up cop.

With Mr. Washington and his Keystone Kops on scene, Clive Owen and his robbers berate, punch, and intimidate the hostages—doing everything but rob the bank, which is intended to make matters suspenseful but just makes things tedious. Mr. Washington's dumb character—and does Inside Man have it in for New York policemen, depicted as dolts—teams with Dafoe's dumb cop, whose familiar line, "we're goin' in!," has never been funnier—unintentionally.

When Miss Foster's highly paid Wonder Woman reappears, it's clear that dialog, detached from plot and character, is the point of this movie, which baits, switches and tricks so often it trips on itself, landing on an ambiguous ending. Inside Man is willfully designed to fool the audience, pretending to probe inside man, ostensibly revealing him as inherently racist, corrupt and greedy, save for a last minute, out-of-character twist.

It is not for one millisecond believable, from Mr. Washington's lingerie-clad wife (young enough to be his daughter) to cops, women and bankers who are more rehearsed than a Broadway chorus line. Spike Lee's return to the screen is merely another contrived, dull, actionless talk-a-thon, dabbling in race and 9/11 and signifying nothing, with the worst part being that it's played for grins.

Buy on DVD
DVD Notes
Universal's DVD for Inside Man packages the usual stuff on a single disc. Deleted scenes are heavy on interrogation sequences like those that already comprise half the movie and a making-of bit includes the cast and producer Brian Grazer, who comments on what he calls the "granulation of the cultural zeitgeist." Don't expect intelligibility; like the movie, clarity is not the point.

Take director Spike Lee's rambling ten minutes with Denzel Washington, in which the two rich Hollywood types sit around talking about "greenlight power" like they're struggling artists, begging Oprah Winfrey for a spot on TV and slapping one another's backs. Spike Lee praises Mr. Washington for channeling the spirit of Malcolm X while the actor repeatedly responds with "right, right, right" to whatever Lee says and states that faith is the key to success. Asked about his outstanding performance in the powerful Civil War epic Glory, he explains: "I went to prayer."

The extras play like a hip hop infomercial for Lee, who speaks in street slang during an audio commentary—taped, he declares, on his 49th birthday—and goes on about dolly shots, signature shots and crane shots when he isn't praising Jodie Foster's "hellified legs" or the droning eastern musical chants that accompany his monotonous movie.

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