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From a financial point of view, it makes sense that Lionsgate Films is promoting its latest, The Bank Job, as another hyperkinetic, seizure-inducing, Jason Statham actioner. After all, the actor has amassed a loyal fanbase with such B-movie favorites as The Transporter, Crank and The War. So, touting this feature as just more of the same is a no-brainer. Too bad this strategy will only end up disappointing most of Statham’s fans and do a disservice to a fine heist film in the process.

As directed by veteran helmer Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, Thirteen Days), Job winds up being more gripping and fun than it has a right to be. Heist flicks are standard fare, but this fact-based film once again proves the maxim that truth is often stranger, and more compelling, than fiction. The director’s game cast does a fine job of adding spice to the proceedings without ever trying to overshadow it and the result is an engaging thriller that’s even more enthralling after the title scheme has gone to the wayside of good ideas gone bad.

Statham is Terry, a car dealer with a past and who’s doing his best to live a respectable, straight life. This is easier said than done in London, circa 1971, but he toes the line until he’s approached by Martine (Saffron Burrows), an old flame of his who’s caught wind of a job that can’t go wrong. She proposes that Terry join a crew she’s assembled to hit Lloyd’s Bank of London, as it contains hundreds of safe deposit boxes filled with untold riches. Needless to say, there’s more to Martine, and the job, than meets the eye.

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Using the old “tunnel through from an adjacent building” plan, Terry and his mates pull off the deed and appear to be on Easy Street, what with all the loot they’re about to make off with. Trouble is, they’ve also stumbled upon pictures, diaries and other paraphernalia detailing dark secrets and nefarious deeds belonging to members of the Royal Family (that Princess Margaret was such a tramp!), London’s upper crust, and other citizens with ties to the mob.

Based on a caper known as “The Walkie-Talkie Robbery”, the film’s tone shifts from slyly amusing to deadly serious in a blink of an eye once Terry and his crew realize they’ll have pornographers, blackmailers, and who knows who else on their tail once it gets out that they’ve uncovered and come into possession of so many dark secrets. The sensational media coverage, however, disappears seemingly overnight, and it is suggested that the government stepped in and quashed the story for fear of embarrassing so many well-connected people. Interestingly, the real case was never solved as no one came forward to file a complaint or testify, a testament to how incendiary the stolen material in question was.

The script, by Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais, does a nice job of capturing Britain’s class strife that was exacerbated at this time and viewing this incident as a blow against elitism and hypocrisy, a working class heroes caper that doubles back to bite the perpetrators in the arse. As the magnitude of the trouble he’s in dawns on Terry, Statham shines. He can do the fisticuffs in his sleep but here we’re reminded that he can be a charming and engaging leading man who deserves far better scripts than ones that have been coming his way. He and Burrows have the sort of palpable chemistry that makes you believe that someone as savvy as Terry could fall for whatever Martine happens to be selling. In this case, she’s selling him down the river and The Bank Job excels at reminding us just how dangerous it is to get suckered by a leggy dame.

Opens tonight at the Beverly and Savoy Theaters

Runtime: 1h 50 min – Rated R – Suspense/Thriller