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Television Review

'Bank' an Engaging Caper Loaded With Screwballs

July 21, 1999|MICHAEL P. LUCAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"The Almost Perfect Bank Robbery" on CBS is a refreshing bit of Preston Sturges-like daftness set in a town full of quirky working-class North Carolinians, the ditsiest of whom--although not by much--is Cyndee La France (Brooke Shields), a bank teller with caviar aspirations.

Cyndee sports a charm bracelet proclaiming her "The Ultimate Babe," parades in fashions that would make eyes pop at any truck stop, then drools over floor-plan brochures from hopelessly pricey subdivisions. And if her cop boyfriend Frank Syler (Dylan Walsh) has a stack of maxed-out credit cards on his mind, he finds diversion enough watching police-reality shows while fantasizing about what he'd do if he caught his flame's old boyfriend, Doug the Bug (Alessandro Nivola).

When Cyndee and Frank decide to get rich quick, it's great fun watching them hatch their scheme, then gamely cling to it as it unravels, attended to by an ensemble of engaging screwballs.

Cyndee's wacky best pal Dawn (Sherie Rene Scott) may be fingernail-obsessed, but she's smarter than she looks, while an ever-exasperated bank customer (Mujibar Rahman of "The Late Show With David Letterman") absurdly becomes a red herring when the loot is snatched. Closing in on the star-crossed lovers is an FBI agent (masterfully crafted by Rip Torn) who brims with ill-disguised contempt for almost everything except his collection of showroom-condition lawn mowers.

Director David Burton Morris and scenarist Adam Greenman--who based the play on a reportedly true Texas incident--wring laughs from one inane situation after another. Shields' endearing performance, however, is at the heart of matters, as she establishes the film's sweet and, ultimately, poignant tone.

Here we see Shields, who did the film in 1996, just before her starring role in the NBC sitcom "Suddenly Susan," finding her footing as a comic actress.

*

* "The Almost Perfect Bank Robbery" airs at 9 tonight on CBS. The network has rated it TV-PGDL (may be unsuitable for young children with special advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language).

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