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While other African-American directors have had to either sell themselves short or simply sell out -- who ever thought talented filmmakers like Bill Duke and John Singleton would be handed sloppy seconds on the rancid order of Sister Act 2: Back In the Habit and 2 Fast 2 Furious respectively? -- Spike Lee has always held true to his convictions.

But donít think for a New York minute that Inside Man suggests Lee is on the road to churning out Scary Movie sequels. Inside Man kicks off in standard play mode, with a quartet of intruders -- decked out in paintersí overalls, sunglasses and masks -- commandeering the Manhattan Trust bank in New Yorkís Wall Street district. Armed with machine guns, these three men and a lady order the hostages to hand over their cell phones, strip down to their underwear and don outfits identical to the ones worn by the robbers. Once the hostage situation is secure, gang leader Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) patiently waits for the police to arrive to assess the situation and listen to demands. After initial contact is made, the NYPD turns to hostage negotiators Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to take charge of the facilitating. In Inside Man, the upper-crust is repped by Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), the bankís founder and the person most worried about the robbery unfolding at his institution. He employs the services of Madeleine White (Jodie Foster), an enigmatic woman who has made a career out of helping wealthy clients out of sticky situations. Itís largely with the introduction of these two players that Inside Man veers away from the expected narrative developments and instead starts piling on the plot twists and character about-faces. While delivering the goods with a thriller premise, Lee is once again more interested in making astute observations about contemporary society, especially as it relates to a post-9/11 mindset. Inside Man doesnít delve into 9/11 as deeply as his 25th Hour -- in that film, the central characters actually take time out from the central plot to view the decimated Ground Zero and reflect on the tragedy. Yet racial profiling isnít Leeís only talking point, as he also touches on the proliferation of violent video games (Russell admonishes a young boy for playing a gore-splattered game called Kill Dat Nigga), the casual racism that becomes more prevalent the further one scales up that social ladder, and the notion of New York as a big melting pot in which no language or culture is unrepresented.