by Ren Zelen

The banking crisis has a lot to answer for, and, as if people haven’t suffered enough, we are offered Breaking the Bank, a humdrum comedy chiefly written by Roger Devlin, and featuring a banker with ‘a heart of gold’ overcoming a crisis involving the loss of his wealth. Needless to say, this seems an unlikely premise to warm the hearts of folks enduring a world financial crunch.

The plot concerns Sir Charles Bunbury (Kelsey Grammer, sporting an English accent) an affable toff who is chairman of a venerable two-hundred-year-old, family-run, British bank named Tuftons. The bumbling Sir Charles actually knows nothing about banking. His wife Penelope (comedienne and stage actress Tamsin Greig) is the real power behind Tuftons and the sole true member of the Tufton dynasty, whose hidebound views made it impossible for her, as a daughter, to take control of the business.

Penelope must stand by and pretend to be a mere spectator as her good-natured but gormless husband is trusted only to make the occasional rousing speech and talk amiably to clients. Charles is also under the influence of narcissistic, wide-boy trader Nick (Matthew Horne) who makes a dodgy deal leaving the bank exposed to possible take-over bids.

In his attempt to get out of the frying pan Charles plunges headlong into the fire and makes the mistake of taking Nick’s insider-trading advice. He foolishly invests money from his wife’s pension fund in a gas company that ends up making an enormous loss.

With Tuftons in the red for £2.5billion, ruthless U.S and Japanese investment banks come circling over the Tuftons’ remains like vultures.  Now disgraced, how can the incompetent Sir Charles possibly save the bank and his marriage?

Thrown out of his comfortable mansion by a furious Penelope and divested of his Rolls Royce, Charles wanders by the Thames and contemplates suicide. He meets and bonds with the homeless Oscar (Pearce Quigley), who conveniently happens to have once been something of whizz-kid in the markets.

Devlin, the writer of Breaking the Bank (himself a former banker and now Chairman of pub chain Marston’s and a director of the Football Association) attempts to raise a smile with what proves to be a rather fragmentary script, stitched together by himself and four other participants, including director Jean, all of whom contribute ‘additional material’.

This results in too many laboured jokes with too many lengthy set-ups in a sit-com style, with knockabout sight-gags and one-liners of enormous broadness muddying the waters of the plot.

The central action of the movie – the rescue of the bank – is hurried, somewhat unbelievable and possibly even ethically questionable. It’s a financial rescue operation that is a bit obscure for the non-finance savvy and in which most people will probably have little interest.

The actors attempt to rescue the proceedings – Grammer has a game stab at Bunbury, barely flinching as he repeats Boris Johnson’s speech about wiff-waff (the ancestor of ping-pong) in a silly scene of one-upmanship with his Japanese counterpart; or when he is shown signing hard copies of emails presented on a silver tray with a quill pen, in a cheap gag about the archaic practices of dopey British aristos.  However, he has little to work with. Sloppy script editing has him constantly bouncing between various catastrophes and sudden plot developments.

Tamsin Greig attempts to be suitably acerbic, particularly in her barbed exchanges with co-star Grammer, but she occasionally appears to lapse into a kind of weariness which has the whiff of despondency. Mathew Horne plays a loathsome 1980s Gordon-Gekko-wannabe, but his part is so clichéd and two-dimensional it annoys for all the wrong reasons. Danny Morgan plays Graham, a sweet quantitative analyst who is Tufton’s conscience, but his screen time is frittered away on an unfunny running joke concerning his attempts to lose his virginity with French P.A. Sophie (Julie Dray).

Then there is the venerable Andrew Sachs, who has one line of dialogue as the loyal chauffeur Jenkins. Before us were some formidable talents, utterly wasted. My heart went out to them.

Breaking the Bank has a certain genial silliness but despite the best efforts of Grammer and Greig, this old-fashioned comedic effort rarely clicks, lumbered with a messy script which promises a few ideas which it never quite delivers. It might still be considered as respectable viewing on a TV screen by the older folks, if they were sleepily replete with a good lunch on a slow Sunday afternoon.


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