Is Minnie Driver living her career in reverse? After a spate of high-profile Hollywood appearances (Grosse Pointe Blank, Good Will Hunting, Hard Rain), you'd think the last thing she'd want to do is tie herself to what is, despite chunks of wit and invention, a low-budget domestic movie.
Maybe it's the idea that Brit Thug Gangster flicks are still cool that drew her in. If so, she was doubly misguided. Even if Lock, Stock and its coven of ham-fisted xeroxes hadn't killed that idea off, the thought that Mel Smith is out to carve himself a directorial niche on the bleeding edge of cool is ridiculous. He may display bags of confidence here - - throwing in parodies of everything from The Thomas Crown Affair to The Italian Job - - but there's no way that this was going to be a hard, edgy effort.
At heart, Smith's a comic director. High Heels may be structured like a thriller, but the plumper half of Alas Smith And Jones undercuts the plotting with a comic tone that forbids any real menace. It's the kind of film where bullets fly but no-one, not even a defenceless, fluffy bunny, ever gets killed by them.
Yet none of this prevents the film from being chirpily enjoyable. Once you get over the shock of seeing Driver take two career steps backwards and get used to Smith's refusal to play anything straight, there's plenty of unassuming fun to be had here. Driver holds the eye with the confidence of someone used to much flashier showcases, giving gentle, unassuming nurse Shannon a wry, sardonic core that plays nicely off the brasher McCormack. Together they make a neat, gently comic buddy team. And Smith does keep things moving at a snappy pace. He never goes for the tension jugular, but he does still bleed a few cleverly crafted set-pieces out of Kim "Spice World" Fuller's script. The opening vault break-in is a corker, while Shannon and Francis' final attempt to extract the cash from psychotic mobster Mason (Kevin McNally) is viciously funny.
But Smith's real victory is the casting. Calling in a few telly markers, Mel manages to give his Bean follow-up satisfying strength in depth by packing the backgrounds with classy Brit talent. Danny Dyer, McNally and Michael Gambon (as a fey old gang boss) turn in cute, off-the-peg cockerney crims, but scene-stealing applause really goes to The Fast Show's Mark Williams and The Actor Kevin Eldon. As a bickering world-weary detective and his house-price-obsessed partner, they saunter off with all High Heels' best moments tucked firmly in their back pockets...
With few bangs and limited bucks, High Heels And Low Lifes might get lost among the summer blockbusters. Keep an eye out for it, though - it's the sort of light-hearted fare that deserves a watch, delivering enough laughs to forgive its small-screen feel.