"A Man, a Woman and a Bank" sounds like another stale bonbon from Claude Lelouch. While plenty short of freshness, the film is an American production. Shot on location in Vancouver, with a brief excursion to Macao, it chronicles a bank robbery scheme carried out by two men: Donald Sutherland as a smoothie entrusted with all the front operations, and Paul Mazursky as a phlegmatic computer analyst whose technical expertise is the key to a "perfect crime."
Their target is a spiffy new computerized bank under construction in downtown Vancouver. The plotters hope to find a secluded spot where they can tap into the wiring and compromise the facility's security system, allowing Mazursky to command computerized operations, like opening and closing vault doors, from his own console.
Casing the construction site, Sutherland attracts the attention of a commercial photographer, Brooke Adams, moments after he has lifted a set of blueprints. While he arouses no suspicions and gets away with the blueprints, he thinks it prudent to make her acquaintance and attempt to retrieve the negatives. Commissioned to do an advertising layout on the new building, she had found his cheerful demeanor especially photogenic and snapped him smiling straight at the camera while clutching the blueprints in his fist.
Although the photographer considers him her best subject, her superiors disagree; so she lets him have the photos, supposedly for his mom. This chance acquaintance blossoms into a love affair, fitfully complicated by the young woman's jealous ex-boyfriend. When the robbers are ready to plunder the newly opened bank, they discover that Sutherland's picture has been selected for advertising purposes after all: He smiles down from a giant billboard on the scene of the crime itself.
Although this may be enjoyed as a "cute" twist, it fails to add a pinch of suspense to a caper plot chronically deficient in suspense or any other animating attributes. Sutherland, Adams and Mazursky seem curiously underutilized: they're altogether too distinctive for such nondescript material. Perhaps they looked forward to this project as a breather: Sutherland and Adams after the high-intensity make-believe of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"; and Mazursky after the rigors of directing "An Unmarried Woman."
For spectators, "A Man, a Woman and a Bank" looms as more of a shlepper than a breather. Neither the character interplay nor the exploitation of computer electronics for ill-gotten gain is developed with sufficient wit or care to do the job. Director Noel Black, whose career took a precipitous detour after the promising start of "Skaterdater" and "Pretty Poison," never seems to get out of neutral. The idea that this criminal scheme might generate a little anxiety and tension, raise a bead of sweat every so often, was evidently beyond the prevailing powers of invention.
The basic material seems defiantly trivial-minded, like an awful lot of stuff cluttering up the screen these days. One hears what terrible odds confront aspiring screenwriters trying to break into the movie business, whose standards of selectivity are supposedly so high that 90 percent or more of the supplicants never stand a chance.
The real problem may be that the standards of selectivity are so arbitrary and shallow that the odds against astute script concepts become astronomical. Why should projects as piddling as "Running," "French Postcards" or "A Man, a Woman and a Bank" have been committed to celluloid?
The deciding factors were no doubt irrelevant to the quality of the material: the vanity of an actor, the delusion of a "youth" angle, the expectation of harmless formula entertainment. All dubious reasons for authorizing a production, as the results attest.