Picks and Pans Review: Inside Man

UPDATED 04/03/2006 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 04/03/2006 at 01:00 AM EDT

Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor
BY LEAH ROZEN

Critic's Choice HEIST

Years ago, a reader wrote in to complain about a negative review, ending her missive with, "Why can't you just sit back at a movie with a Coke and a smile?" That's exactly what I did, minus the soft drink, at Inside Man. This isn't a perfect movie, but it sure is an enjoyable one. It has dialogue that pops, a tricky plot that'll keep a viewer guessing, and a star performance from Washington—teaming for the fourth time with director Spike Lee—that boasts as much snap as he gives to the brim of his character's snazzy fedora.

Washington plays a New York City police detective assigned to negotiate with a robber (Owen) who, along with three confederates, has taken over a downtown Manhattan bank and is holding 50 employees and customers hostage. It soon becomes clear to the cop that the robbery isn't just about money, particularly after being instructed by the mayor to keep sleekly chic Foster, a fixer for the rich and powerful, clued in about what's happening.

Man has an exceedingly strong sense of place. This is very much a New York movie about New Yorkers. Everyone, including cops, hostages and thieves, has an opinion—about everything. And everyone is either a wiseacre, a kvetcher or working an angle, often all three. ("Can you fix these?" a woman demands of Washington, handing him a bag full of parking tickets before she will agree to help the cops.) Owen makes for a charismatic criminal. In supporting roles, Foster oozes superiority and smarts, while Christopher Plummer, as the bank's chairman, puts the charm in smarm. The movie gets a tad ragged toward the end, but the final scene is a pip, so all is forgiven. (R)

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