Everyone remembers The Great Train Robbery: Ronnie Biggs, the Costa Del Crime, that dodgy Phil Collins movie. Few recall the Walkie-Talkie Robbery of 1971, when thieves tunnelled into Lloyds Bank and robbed safety deposit boxes containing wads of cash, jewels and dirty little secrets. Among them were snaps of a royal princess taking it every which way… grubby pics MI5 wanted so bad they set up the heist themselves then gagged the press.
“The names have been changed to protect the guilty,” jokes this zippy yet anaemic exposé of the robbers and the Royal. In the dock is the ever-likeable Jason Statham, who stars as Terry, a dodgy motor-trader with a wide-boy look: leather coat, badger stubble, geezer twinkle in the eye. When old flame turned MI5 stooge Martine (Saffron Burrows) approaches him, he jumps at what Arthur Daley would’ve called a nice little earner.
Minder’s old lag isn’t the only aging TV character who springs to mind. Screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais cut their teeth on The Likely Lads and Porridge, so the retro vibe’s no shocker. But unlike Life On Mars, the ’70s time warp is depressingly unironic – with all stereotypes intact. You half expect Terry and June to do a walk-on; even David Suchet’s porn baron looks like he’s auditioning as the third Ronnie.
Although the heist’s a bodge-job – overheard radio chatter creating the ‘Walkie-Talkie’ moniker – director Roger Donaldson keeps things ticking like clockwork. As the conspiracy tightens, the second half darkens with a gruesome blowtorch torture scene and cat’s cradle plotting. Pity the shortage of adrenalin-amped action serves to hamstring Statham’s hard man credentials. Meanwhile, his one big acting moment (“I’ve brought you more greef than ’appyness,” he confesses to his pissed off missus) makes him seem less Britain’s Steve McQueen than Dennis Waterman. Could be worse. At least he’s not the new Phil Collins…