Imagine a heist film cast by the Rainbow Coalition and you have some idea of what Spike Lee does with Inside Man, a limp hostage negotiation thriller seething with laughably carnivalesque racial, gender, and socio-economic frictions. Like a cinematic Noah filling up his all-inclusive Ark, Lee populates his genre pic with all kinds of coarse stereotypes, from the obnoxious Italian bimbo talking too loudly on her cellphone to the African-American boy (playing a gangbanging game on his PSP) whose mo’ money ethos comes from 50 Cent, to Willem Dafoe’s cop casually referring to “ragheads,” to the Sikh gentleman who’s erroneously labeled an “Arab” and has his turban unceremoniously removed by NYPD’s intolerant finest. Step right up and see the panoply of hot button-pushing caricatures—including Jodie Foster as a corporate operative-for-hire named Ms. White (yes, that’s really her name), as well as Christopher Plummer as The Man—each one given a brief moment in the spotlight by first-time screenwriter Russell Gewirtz in a vain effort to imbue his central standoff with that most amorphous of things: “post-9/11” tensions. Lee, however, doesn’t simply confine himself to contemporary controversies, eventually wending his way through listless ransom demands and law-enforcement squabbles to arrive at a half-baked twist involving Nazi loot, a revelation regarding the continued presence of long-ago evils that retrospectively gives images of hostages stripping down to their underwear a concentration camp vibe. Inside Man is so thoroughly crammed with symbolic undertones that virtually everything contains allegorical culture-clash potential—for instance, is there some hidden meaning behind Dalton Russell’s (Clive Owen) thieves entering the Wall Street bank in white painter’s outfits, but then changing into gray jumpsuits later on? And what does it say about Denzel Washington’s persecuted detective Frazier Keith that he ultimately, triumphantly, dons a dapper cream-colored suit? In Dalton’s forcing his prisoners to wear matching, identity-negating outfits, Lee seems to be critiquing racial profiling by challenging Washington’s hero to distinguish criminals from innocents without the benefit of knowing his suspects’ skin color. Yet despite its leads enthusiastically breathing life into their sub-Sidney Lumet characters, the languid Inside Man offers almost no incisive insights into modern societal discord and provides only scant cops-and-robbers kicks. Perhaps not Lee’s dullest “joint,” it’s nonetheless one of his most sloppily rolled.
- Spike Lee
- Russell Gewirtz
- Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Willem Dafoe, Peter Gerety, Christopher Plummer
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