- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2008

The Bank Job (Lionsgate, $29.95 for DVD, $34.98 for two-disc DVD, $39.99 for Blu-ray) — “The Bank Job” might seem like it has a pretty preposterous plot. A group of relatively low-level thieves pull off an astonishing heist, breaking into a heavily fortified London bank and emptying it of its safe-deposit boxes. They then learn that they were sent in to steal not the cash and jewels, but compromising photographs of a member of the royal family that were in the deposit box of a black militant who had used the pictures to escape jail time.

The thing is, the story is true — at least partly.

This exceedingly entertaining film is based on a real 1971 Baker Street robbery. Details, including the claim that an amateur ham radio operator tipped off police when he heard the lookout communicating with the robbers, made the front pages of British newspapers until a government D-notice gag request made the story disappear. Incredibly, no information on what really happened has been revealed until now. It’s not clear just how much of this movie is true, but it does name names. Director Roger Donaldson (“Thirteen Days”) and writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (“Across the Universe”) say it was the late Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth II’s younger sister, known for her notorious love life, who appeared in those naughty photos.

Jason Statham (“Transporter”) stars as the crew’s head, while Saffron Burrows (“Enigma”) is the femme fatale who draws him in. Their chemistry is palpable, but it’s the dialogue that really gets you going, with such classic-seeming gangster talk as: “Everything’s going to go custard.”

Extras on the two-disc DVD and Blu-ray disc include a commentary with Mr. Donaldson, Miss Burrows and composer J. Peter Robinson along with deleted scenes. There’s also a featurette on the making of the movie and one on the real heist that inspired it.

The Ruins (Paramount, $29.99 for DVD, $39.99 for Blu-ray) — Stephen King is no Oprah Winfrey. Though the uber-best-selling author called Scott Smith’s novel “The Ruins” the “best horror novel of the new century,” the film adaptation only made a modest $17.4 million stateside. Horror movies tend to have smaller budgets, though, and “The Ruins” is no exception. So, by making more than double its $8 million production budget in U.S. ticket sales alone, the movie may not be a hit, but it is a success.

Mr. Smith adapted his own novel, which was a best-seller, as he did his first novel, “A Simple Plan.” The screenplay for that clever thriller garnered the writer an Oscar nomination. It surprised some that in both cases, Mr. Smith’s screenplays differed somewhat markedly from his novels. Fans of the book are in luck. “The Ruins” is being released in an unrated edition with an alternate ending, one closer to that of the novel. In an interview, the author said that moviegoers, after seeing a “punishing” film, need a bit of an uplift in their endings that readers don’t.

“The Ruins” follows a group of college buddies on vacation who face unholy terror after one of them steps in an ancient trap in a Mayan ruin.

Stop-Loss (Paramount, $29.99) — “Stop-Loss” tried to be the Iraq War film for the MTV generation. It was even released by MTV Films. However, it suffered the same fate as all those Iraq War films filled with older stars, like Meryl Streep and Robert Redford (“Lions for Lambs”) and Tommy Lee Jones (“In the Valley of Elah”) — box-office failure. The film cost $25 million to make, but pulled in just under $11 million in the U.S. Foreigners were even less interested, to the tune of under $130,000.

Perhaps the problem is that rather than make something really cutting-edge, “Boys Don’t Cry” director Kimberly Peirce trotted out every war-movie cliche in the book. Ryan Phillippe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt can act, but even they couldn’t save this melodramatic script that doesn’t even get basic details about the military right. It’s too bad, because the topical issue the movie takes on - soldiers who have completed their contract tours of duty being “stop-lossed” and sent back to Iraq - deserves to be addressed.

Saving Grace: Season One (Fox, $49.98) — Our television sets haven’t been taken over by reality programming just yet. More cable channels are looking to boost ratings with original series, giving scripted programming a much-needed boost. USA Network has “Monk” and “Psych,” AMC has “Mad Men,” and TNT has “The Closer” and “Saving Grace,” the latter of which comes out on DVD next week.

Many of these — such as FX’s “Damages” with Glenn Close — star film actresses who, a little older now, seem willing to try television if a meaty role is offered them. Oscar winner Holly Hunter took on her first television role for “Saving Grace.” She earned a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Oklaholma City police detective Grace Hanadarko, whose name gives a clue to her state of mind. The promiscuous and hard-drinking cop is given a chance to redeem herself when she cries out for God’s help after she runs down a pedestrian while driving drunk one night. It’s just the sort of role at which Miss Hunter excels — and she certainly looks good as a bad girl in those promotional ads.

All 13 episodes are on four discs. Extras include commentaries, interviews and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

The second season of “Saving Grace” starts Monday.