Deep sea treasure hunters become Bank of Spain robbers in “The Vault,” a heist picture built on “The Italian Job” model, only without the laughs.
The criminal masterminds are British and there’s a hint of jingoism in their quest. They’re trying to recover something associated with privateer/warrior/explorer Sir Francis Drake. There’s no Michael Caine, no jokes and not a Mini Cooper in sight. And it’s in Madrid and not Turin, Italy. But come on. It took five credited screenwriters to come up with this humorless, tepid “Italian Job” knockoff?
Freddie Highmore plays an oil baron’s son just finishing up engineering school. He’s fending off suitors from his father’s world when a mysterious text arrives. The “opportunity of a lifetime” awaits.
The blonde pickpocket who changes hair colors, accents and names? She (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) might have been called “the bait” in a less woke era. But young Thom Laybrick (again, FIVE screenwriters) is more intrigued by the veteran deep sea “salvager” (Liam Cunningham) and his pitch.
There’s something he wants. It’s in the Bank of Spain, in an ingenious, gigantic, overbuilt and “impossible” vault. Are you in?
This strikes me as where “The Vault” starts to go wrong. We’ve been treated to a not-quite-suspenseful prologue where Walter (Cunningham) and his ace diver (Sam Riley) recover treasure that they then legally lose custody of. Lawyer Margaret (Famke Janssen) was no help at all. So this bank job is to recover something they’ve already risked big cash and lives to get their hands on.
Walter makes nothing of that, no “Get back what’s mine” (because it isn’t) outrage, no “England expects every man to do his bank-robbing duty” rubbish. Specifics of the “prize” are sketchy. And we aren’t treating skilled, alluring and amoral young female accomplices as “bait” in such pictures any more.
But the trouble is, there’s too little here that’s supposed to lure this earnest, privileged and dull young engineer into crossing the line and risking prison or worse — just the “problem” of this “impossible” low-tech vault.
Next thing we know, we’re in Madrid to meet the German IT whiz (Axel Stein) and the Spanish procurer (Spanish star Luis Tosar of “Eye for an Eye” and “Retribution”). He can get “whatever you need” — 3D printers have just been invented, “thermal lances, a fire suit and 500 liters of nitrogen” come later.
What follows is a wildly improbable, generally dull attempted heist with pre-robbery robberies, ziplines and water hazards and a fanatical Spanish security chief (Jose Coronado) trying to keep his vast “team” engaged in defending the vault in the middle of Spain’s march to victory in the 2010 World Cup, which has the country transfixed.
I kept groping around for something about this story to latch onto, and finding nothing.
It’s not funny, not romantic or sexy and not particularly colorful. Thom joking that he’s no “Danny Ocean” is the closest “The Vault” gets to that light tone.
Which is fine. There are caper comedies and there are heist pictures, and this is the latter. So it needs to get by on “the plan,” an engaging “team,” suspense and clever improvisation when “the best laid plans” of the burglars “Gang aft a-gley.”
But there’s little tension and a lot of nonsensical tech to “The Vault,” great big sets but not much to the set pieces.
It starts to feel compromised early on, and that costs it a point of view. A Spanish co-production about Brits, a German and Spaniards robbing the Banco de España needs more intense motivation for everyone involved. Every character in this seems blithely unaware of the risk-rewards ratio in this enterprise. The actors reinforce this “low stakes” air. It’s as if they see that there’s not a lot of logic to any of this and the on-screen “planning,” a staple of the genre, feels half-assed.
And when your film’s not a comedy, that matters even more.
MPA Rating: R for language (profanity)
Cast: Freddie Highmore, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Sam Riley, Luis Tosar, Jose Coronado, Liam Cunningham and Famke Janssen
Credits: Directed by Jaume Balagueró, script by Rowan Athale, Michel Gaztambide, Borja Glez Santaolalla, Andrés M. Koppel and Rafa Martínez. A Saban Films release.
Running time: 1:58