No, this is not a self-help video, but How to Rob a Bank is still about self-improvement. This is a short but smart film from IFC Films and newbie director Andrews Jenkins. The 2007 film has been released on DVD by Genius products.
In the film, average guy Jason "Jinx" Taylor (Nick Stahl, Terminator 3) tries to withdraw $20 from his checking account via an ATM. Upon being told that he has insufficient funds, he wanders into the nearest Grant Liberty bank and right into the middle of a bank robbery. When some of the robbers open fire on him, he runs into the open vault, and the door shuts behind him. The vault locks, leaving him and Jessica (Erika Christensen, Swimfan) locked inside. Jessica reveals that she was a hired gun, part of the robbery and in the vault to hack the computer. Jinx and Jessica get to know each other and negotiate with Simon (Gavin Rossdale, Constantine), the head robber, by cell phone. Simon and his compatriots, including Leo Fitzpatrick (Telly from Kids), have their own problems. Now that Jinx has closed the vault, they have taken hostages to prevent the police from bursting in. The cop in charge, Officer DeGepse (Terry Crews, Balls of Fury), connects with Jinx and Jessica through 911 by cell phone, and soon all three parties, cops, robbers, and in-betweens, are chatting on cells.
How to Rob a Bank is about taking control. Jinx ends up in the life threatening situation in the first place because he's being ripped of by his bank, with its ATM surcharges. Soon, he's trying to appease the cops by cell phone, convince the robbers that he's not worth killing when and if he makes it out of the vault, and get Jessica to spill the beans about what he should do next. He eventually decides to do what's best for himself and speaks to the whole plot's mastermind, Nick (David Carradine), by phone. Jinx and Jessica learn to trust each other, and after a few hours together find a romantic connection (of course). I can't fault Jinx for this. All of the performances are good in the film. Stahl plays a good every guy, and Rossdale is good as the high-strung criminal with an anger problem (and the movie's token British accent guy). But I found Christensen, whom I had never seen in a whole film before, to be the most enjoyable to watch; she absolutely oozes confident sexuality, playing the smart-mouthed computer hacker who has the advantage over the clueless Jinx.
How to Rob a Bank has that washed out look that's so popular these days, where everything looks slightly overexposed. The cinematography and camerawork by Joseph Meade are good, but about 60% of the entire film takes place within the locked vault. It is brightly lit and flat in there, so those shots won't blow you away. Much of the film has a blue tint to it, except the flashbacks, which are yellow tinted. I'm sure that the look of the film was crafted in post, which is becoming standard, unfortunately.
Jenkins made some choices that I didn't like in the film. If a character references an object, he whip pans over to it with loud whooshes on the sound track. In 1970, the director would simply have cut to it, which seems ridiculously practical. The filmmaking also gets a little sloppy when Jenkins is in a hurry to get the dialogue rolling; the cell phones connect much too quickly at times. Those of us in the real world know that it takes a moment for a cell to actually start ringing the other person's phone when we place a call; then they can answer and talk to us a few moments later, after opening their phone.
Now, let's talk about marketing. The DVD case touts this as an action film. It's not. There are a couple of gun shots in the entire film. Contrary to the cover, Jinx never once touches a firearm, and he's certainly no John McClane. There are no firefights or kung-fu.
It is, in fact, a movie with people talking. Hitchcock would have described this as "pictures of people talking...on cell phones." However, Jenkins does what he can to keep it interesting. The dialogue is snappy and quick. Some special effects are used, like a static, time-lapse shot when Jinx and Jessica are passing time in the vault. There are also some of those Requiem for a Dream shots where the camera is attached to the performer while he or she walks around. Jenkins also budgeted out some spiffy effects shots.
So, how do you rob a bank and actually get away with it? Telling you that would spoil the ending, as would telling you who does succeed in doing so. I will tell you that the film gives you some hints, presented through intertitles.
The second featurette is "The Making of How to Rob a Bank: The Characters." This features on-camera interviews with the three main stars. It is six minutes long, and it is not enhanced for widescreen TV's. Again, for the length, you might as well check it out.
While listed at 1 hour, 21 minutes, How to Rob a Bank actually ends at about 1:17:00, so it's really, really short. Part comedy, part heist thriller, the movie is enjoyable, but this DVD probably won't keep your attention for more than a few sit downs, due largely to the short length of the main feature. I'm going to give this a generous "Recommended."