By Merle Bertrand | May 7, 2000

Kevin (David Doyle) is a mild-mannered young drifter hitching his way across England. Broke, hungry and thirsty, he pops into a diner and bums a spot of tea and a cheese sandwich off the owner. As luck would have it, three fourths of a bumbling band of bank robbers are having a pint at that same diner. Noticing the lad’s dire straits, Rock (Gary Beadle) calls Kevin over and offers him a job looking after the gang’s warehouse quarters. What he really has in mind, he explains to his cohorts Sal (John Bushnell) and Natch (Pancho Russell), is hiring Kevin as a driver when and if he receives instructions for a hit from their boss Boo. Wary but airily indifferent, Kevin plays along, planning on at least grabbing a good night’s sleep before slipping out the next morning. Needless to say, once Rock gets the call from Boo, Kevin’s chance to sneak out disappears. With the belated arrival of momma’s boy Space (Saltz), Kevin finds himself considered an unofficial fifth member of the gang. There’s only one catch for the man Rock’s counting on to wheel them away to safety after the bank job: Kevin doesn’t know how to drive. This gives the panicked gang boss and his hapless charges two days to teach Kevin how to drive, all the while not revealing why it’s so critically important that he learn how to do so. That’s the gist of Richie Winearls’ dark English comedy, “The Imitators.” If you’re thinking to yourself that that isn’t much of a plot, you’re absolutely correct. It is, in fact, a paper-thin excuse of a storyline which leaves Winearls’ film leaning on its characters and their offbeat interactions to carry the picture. It works to an extent, and probably more than it should. Whereas Sal and Natch are practically interchangeable filler characters, Saltz’ Space provides a good dose of Rasta-comedic relief. Beadles’ hyperactive, spittle-spewing Rock, meanwhile, crosses Seal with Michæl Jordan to form an irritating but nonetheless compelling character. If there is a weak link in these characters, it’s with Doyle’s Kevin. Naive is one thing, gullible another. But dull and obliviously dumb are something else entirely, and this utterly uninteresting cipher is both. Not all of it is his fault, however. After all, it’s Winearls’ script that forces him to believe that four guys dressed all in black and packing heat are going shopping. A truly oil and water mix of “The Young Ones” and “Reservoir Dogs” — minus the violence and snappy photography — “The Imitators” tries to be a funny bank robbery movie. It’s not, really. Instead, as its name suggests, it merely resembles one.

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