The Spanish heist film “The Vault,” renamed from the even more unclear “Way Down” for U.S. release, persistently remains one of those films you know you’ll forget nearly as soon as you stop watching it at 123Movies online. This beautiful tale of a “mission impossible” raid on a heavily guarded Madrid bank to recover treasure, directed by Jaume Balaguero of the “[rec]” series, has nothing fundamentally wrong with it. It’s just that a caper of this genre need suspenseful set pieces, startling twists, oddball characters, or charismatic stars — ideally, all of the above — to stand out, and this one falls short in all of those areas.
Viewers who enjoy procedural dramas may be drawn in by the procedural components of the tale regardless. However, anyone expecting more from a heist film than the genre’s typical principles expertly executed will be disappointed with “The Vault.” Saban Films will release the largely English-language film in theaters, as well as digitally and on demand, in the United States on March 26.
The Vault: In the Beginning
In 1645, during many sea battles between England’s Sir Francis Drake and the Spanish Armada, a small prologue presents the idea of treasure sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic. A group of deep-diving salvagers discovers the lost booty 365 years later, which crusty Walter (Liam Cunningham) has been seeking for for three decades. However, it is confiscated by tipped-off Spanish customs officers as soon as it is loaded onto the ship, having been excavated from that country’s territorial seas. The case is heard by an international tribunal at The Hague, which rules in favor of Spain. The secret riches is sent to Madrid sight unseen, still sealed in its centuries-old chest.
Meanwhile, Thom (Freddie Highmore), a 21-year-old claimed engineering “boy genius” — we know he’s one because someone calls him that every five minutes — is fighting off post-graduation job offers from global businesses in Cambridge. He’s more fascinated by an anonymous invitation that leads to Walter, who needs the wunderkind’s aid breaking into “the world’s most guarded vault.” One of the film’s biggest credibility flaws is that we’re supposed to believe supposedly brilliant Thom would risk his own future to reclaim non-specific treasures from the government simply because some grumpy old wealthy person believes he’s entitled to them. Nonetheless, it’s an offer that our hero can’t refuse.
Others on Walter’s crew are apprehensive of the boy, including Lorraine (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), grumpy brawn James (Sam Riley), computer wiz Klaus (Axel Stein), and gear man Simon (Axel Stein) (Luis Tosar). They must get access to the Bank of Spain’s headquarters in Madrid, escaping not just a slew of guards and surveillance systems, but also the bank’s obsessively dedicated Security Chief Gustavo (Jose Coronado). One advantage: It’s July 2010, and the city is a whirlwind of sports passion as the World Cup draws closer to Spain.
Next scene on 123Movies display, that latter element adds a fun, large-scale background element to the story, but it could have been more integrated throughout the story than Balaguero and his team of scenarists manage. They’re considerably more tuned in to the mechanics of the “cloak and dagger bullshit,” as the characters’ quest is eloquently defined at one point. As our heroes assume various disguises and employ a variety of strategies to penetrate the Fort Knox-like complex, this leads in some fascinating details.
“Passion, and Because It was Impossible”
“The Vault” looks like a dashing international adventure a la “Ocean’s” movie, shot in sleek, gorgeous widescreen on sumptuous settings by DP Daniel Aranyo. Despite that shine, and the occasional soundtracked shove toward a rollicking tenor (via AC/DC, Sex Pistols, and other artists), the fun train never quite arrives. The betrayal of one of the team members is foreshadowed in advance, culminating a series of planned surprises that feel comfortable and routine. Our bland assurance that any tight corner gotten into would inevitably be wriggled out of at the last second adds to the absence of true suspense in either softly time-pressed or conventional action-flick situations (including precipice-dangling and near-drowning).
All of these performers have done well in the past, but they are unable to work together as a group or to shine individually in this film. Instead, they give the impression of following in the footsteps of more famous gangs of rogues, dating back to “Big Deal on Madonna Street.” Thom’s “genius” is validated by the contrivance of him fixing some logistical problem every other scene, while Highmore’s eventual romantic chemistry with Berges-Frisbey never rises above Obligatory Plot Element status. As an old foe of Walter’s, Famke Janssen gets a few arch sequences.
“Passion, and because it was impossible,” Thom shrugs when asked why he’d commit high crimes with a bunch of strangers, evoking the devil-may-care, crazy-adventure atmosphere that “The Vault” keeps hinting at but never captures. The film online – which can watch streaming on 123Movies – is like a high-end car that somehow fails to delight, and it comes across as crazily arrogant at the end when it expects we’re excited for a sequel. (In fact, we’re curious as to why the first journey finishes with no glimpse of the still-locked treasure chest.)
Balaguero has shown in the past that he can manage the production resources and values of a far larger operation than his mostly horror-oriented former features, some of which he co-directed with Paco Plaza. However, the majority of those films were more at ease with their genre norms. “The Vault” has all of the necessary external elements for a robbery film that you can find on 123Movies site. Yet, while being dull, it lacks the risk, esprit, and companionship required for such adventures to succeed.