FX shoots blanks with “44 Minutes,” a schlocky take on the North Hollywood bank robbery that boosted L.A.’s reputation as a city of whackjobs back in 1997. Trying to milk social significance from a crime that captured the nation’s attention before disappearing from the radar altogether — until now — the cabler blows a big, fat, wet kiss to the LAPD while deciding this one incident was the most important event that ever happened to the department. But the implied comment that this was a cultural event as much as crime scene is a major miscalculation.
Telepic comes after a string of titles that have put the basic cabler on the map as a potent player: From good (“The Pentagon Papers,” “Sins of the Father”) to not so good (“RFK”), FX has at least become a pursuer of noble subject matter. That’s the sense here as well, but the overbaked execution and lack of surprises weigh down what is really just a longish episode of “Law & Order.” Tops among the weird factors is a strange campaign taken on by director Yves Simoneau and writer Tim Metcalfe to sanitize the image of a police force that, at the time, had been under fire for scandals and an overall morale problem.
The meat of “44 Minutes” takes place inside of a Laurel Canyon Boulevard Bank of America, where an early-bird staff is forced into the vault by ski mask-wearing, body armor-clad, AK47-wielding thugs Emil Matasareanu and Larry Phillips Jr. (played as dumbbell, pill-popping robots by Oleg Taktarov and Andrew Bryniarski, respectively).
Like “Dog Day Afternoon,” the rest develops outside as tension builds. Chief among the heroes is Frank McGregor (Michael Madsen), a squinty, badged heavy who takes control and narrates the entire day’s events into a TV camera. Unnecessary sideplot No. 1: He’s got a pregnant wife back home who compulsively worries he’s not coming home.
There’s also Donnie Anderson (Ron Livingston), a SWAT cop made even more gallant by (sideplot No. 2) doing all of this for his dead father’s approval. But the most manipulative efforts are attached to Henry Dee (Mario Van Peebles), a Bible-toting inner-city officer who lectures to a young hoodlum about the dangers of gang lifestyle only to have the kid come back at the end to win his heart (alas, shameless sideplot No. 3).
Simoneau, who just came off the very thorough and epic “Napoleon” for A&E, is out of his element, trying to bring intellectualism and high drama to what amounts to nothing more than a big, loud shootout. And what a shootout it is. Taking its cues from the bigscreen “Heat,” “44 Minutes” has gunplay galore, featuring several segments with nothing more than ammunition being sprayed among passers-by and the gaggle of investigators stationed outside the bank. (Nobody was killed.)
Other than the firepower, nothing generates much noise. The dialogue is secondary to the felony, and the performances are as cliched as they come, led by Madsen (tough guy with a heart of gold), Peebles (street cop with a heart of gold) and Livingston (cocky pro with a heart of gold).
The bullets fly loudly, but aside from that, tech credits are a nonissue.