Published On: Thu, Sep 13th, 2018

BRIAN VINER reviews King Of Thieves

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King Of Theives (15) 

You’ll feel shortchanged 

Rating:

Crazy Rich Asians (12A) 

Verdict: Mostly vacuous 

Rating:

Almost 50 years have passed since Michael Caine led a band of virile young criminals over the Alps to Turin in The Italian Job. Now here he is, at the other end of his career, leading a superannuated gang on another audacious heist, in what is effectively The Octogenarian Job.

Of course, it’s not Caine masterminding the robbery, but the elderly character he plays, Brian Reader, in the true story of the 2015 raid on the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company.

Director James Marsh doesn’t care too much about the distinction, however, so nor should we. He even gives us a fleeting but wonderful montage of shots of Caine and his co-stars, including Tom Courtenay, Jim Broadbent and Michael Gambon, lifted from films they made back when they were sowing their wild oats, rather than eating them to keep themselves regular.

Marsh’s one great asset, in presenting a story that has already inspired a couple of forgettable feature films, is his cast.

With Ray Winstone and Paul Whitehouse from the slightly less liver-spotted department, it is the cast pretty much all of us would have chosen if the job had been ours.

Seeing them bouncing off each other as arthritic scoundrels made me sad that Bob Hoskins is no longer around to join them, as he would have done, had he still been alive, practically by royal decree.

Almost 50 years have passed since Michael Caine led a band of virile young criminals over the Alps to Turin in The Italian Job. Now here he is, at the other end of his career in the King of Thieves

Almost 50 years have passed since Michael Caine led a band of virile young criminals over the Alps to Turin in The Italian Job. Now here he is, at the other end of his career in the King of Thieves

Almost 50 years have passed since Michael Caine led a band of virile young criminals over the Alps to Turin in The Italian Job. Now here he is, at the other end of his career in the King of Thieves

The film begins with Reader, a career criminal, enjoying a nostalgic night out on the town with his dying wife (Francesca Annis).

But soon she is brown bread, as none of his old Cockney muckers have the insensitivity to say.

He assured her that he would spend his twilight years going straight, yet the promise barely even survives to the funeral.

There, instead of misty-eyed recollections of his fragrant missus, he is discussing the robberies that he and his pals never got round to carrying out.

With the encouragement of his nerdy, nervous protege Basil (Charlie Cox), he starts plotting a spectacular swansong. 

‘Things like this give me purpose,’ he says. We are expected, I think, to cheer him on. After all, he’s Sir Michael Caine.

This is the self-inflicted problem Marsh has with his troupe of much-loved, venerable actors, and it’s one that he and screenwriter Joe Penhall acknowledge by reminding us half-heartedly, every now and then, that this crew of doddery villains are still actually meant to be pretty villainous.

Caine duly unveils that toothy snarl of his from time to time, but really, King Of Thieves belongs with all those other heist movies that manipulate us into rooting for the baddies, bestowing on them a kind of murky glamour. As so often, the crime-fighters aren’t nearly as interesting. Indeed, the cops here, not one of them represented by a national treasure, go about their business in near-silence.

There are a couple of other dramatic difficulties that the film, in trying to reflect accurately what happened (to the extent that much of the script follows actual police transcripts, taken from bugging devices planted after the robbery), does not entirely solve.

One is that Reader, the most compelling character played by the most famous actor, distances himself from the heist after a barney between himself and another robber, Terry Perkins (Broadbent). Another is that breaking into the deposit-box vault takes place over an Easter weekend, dragging on for so long that in the middle of the job they actually pack up and go home for the night.

There are a couple of other dramatic difficulties that the film, in trying to reflect accurately what happened (to the extent that much of the script follows actual police transcripts, taken from bugging devices planted after the robbery), does not entirely solve

There are a couple of other dramatic difficulties that the film, in trying to reflect accurately what happened (to the extent that much of the script follows actual police transcripts, taken from bugging devices planted after the robbery), does not entirely solve

There are a couple of other dramatic difficulties that the film, in trying to reflect accurately what happened (to the extent that much of the script follows actual police transcripts, taken from bugging devices planted after the robbery), does not entirely solve

So there are no thrills in the style of Ocean’s 8. Instead, this is Ocean’s 80-odd, and Marsh tries hard to make a virtue of it. Kenny Collins (Courtenay) has a habit of dozing off, which is unfortunate in a lookout-man.

Perkins has diabetes and needs an injection in his buttock halfway through the robbery. And the fence, Billy the Fish (Gambon), has prostate trouble. So one minute, King Of Thieves is playing for laughs; yet the next, it’s rebuking us for laughing.

The result is a curious mish-mash of a film, unevenly scripted and nowhere near as sure-footed as Marsh’s acclaimed 2014 feature, The Theory Of Everything.

There’s a terrific soundtrack, containing a few clever, near-subliminal refrains from the themes of much-loved old detective shows such as The Professionals and The Sweeney.

And it’s nice to see a Bafta-lifetime-achievement-award, or a dinner-at-The-Ivy (or whatever might be the collective noun) of great old British actors still hitting their marks. But, aptly, I left feeling short-changed.

n I WAS similarly disappointed by Crazy Rich Asians, a romantic comedy with an all-Asian cast that has been wildly successful in the U.S., attracting near-rapturous reviews.

Though undeniably sweet and funny in parts, I thought it mostly vacuous, lazily- plotted nonsense.

To clear up a couple of possible misconceptions about the title, these are not Asians from the Indian subcontinent, which I think is what most British audiences might expect, but from China and Singapore. And ‘crazy’ doesn’t mean that they’re bonkers. Crazy-rich is an American compound adjective. They’re loaded.

The film opens in 1995 in a swanky London hotel, where the snotty manager turfs out a Singaporean family, telling them to find rooms in Chinatown. You don’t believe in it for a micro-second, but it sets the tone for the many implausibil-ities to come.

We leap forward to the present day. Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is a beautiful economics professor (an oxymoron, surely), raised in New York by a poor, single mother.

She discovers that her suave boyfriend Nick Young (nicely, if improbably, played by BBC Travel Show presenter Henry Golding) is not the ordinary, slightly impecunious cove that, despite his expensive wardrobe and Eton-polished vowels, she very unperceptively took him to be.

Nope, he’s the heir to a multi-billion dollar empire, run by the same family that was belittled in the London hotel, a family so rich that it owns most of South-East Asia.

In Singapore for a family wedding, she meets all his relatives and childhood friends, some of whom — notably his uptight mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) — are determined not to let Nick marry ‘beneath’ him.

That’s basically all the plot entails. But to eke out the two-hour running time, it is lavishly gilded with scenes of such conspicuous consumption that you can hardly believe you’re not back in the Eighties.

There are some good lines, some amusing scenes and some lipsmacking food shots, as well as a wildly over-the-top turn by the rapper Awkwafina as Rachel’s college friend. But a romcom classic?

Let me be the first to suggest that the Chinese Emperor is wearing no clothes.

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