A 70s-inspired heist movie sees Spike Lee back on form Alison Jones gets the inside scoop...

As soon as Denzel Washington slips silkily into a seersucker jacket and tilts his straw Panama just so, Inside Man's credentials as a respectful homage to the crime thrillers of the 70s are established.

The kind of cerebral cops and robbers cat and mouse romp where the protagonists' IQ is higher than the bullet and body count.

Spike Lee admits that his affection for old style thrillers, like Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, ran deep enough to include two of the actors who appeared in Dog Day in the cast of Inside Man.

"But you'll have to do your work finding out who they are.

"This was a way of making something contemporary but respectful of the films I liked growing up.

"It was a lot of fun, not just because of the subject matter but to work with a cast like this."

A cast that he is adamant does not include, contrary to internet rumours, Spike's close friend and the Gunners WMD, Thierry Henry.

"I don't know where that started," Spike says, his sudden animation elevating his demeanour from that of a morose turtle.

"We are friends but we have never discussed him being in a movie... or of me playing for Arsenal."

The world will have to wait to discover whether Thierry's thespian ambitions extend beyond his ability to Va Va Voom.

However, Spike has managed to put together his own Premiership squad of actors led by two double Oscar winners in Denzel Washington as a detective/hostage negotiator and Jodie Foster as an icily mysterious power broker in spike heels.

"She wanted a role where she could get dressed and look glamorous... and for those heels, she's got great legs."

Clive Owen plays the criminal mastermind who seems remarkably unperturbed by the fact the police have the bank he is robbing surrounded. Willem Dafoe, Christopher Plummer and Chiwetel Ejiofor all provide solid support.

Getting Denzel to play the lead, as an honest cop under suspicion of being corrupt who is being offered career advancement in exchange for closing the case quickly, was the deal breaker as far as Spike was concerned.

"If Denzel wasn't doing this film the film wasn't getting made. It had to come together very quickly to make it fit in with Denzel's schedule."

He picked Coventry-born Owen he picked to play Denzel's villainous match because he "wanted a man not a boy.

"Denzel's a man and in order for this cat and mouse game to work we needed somebody who could plant their feet firmly on the ground and stand toe to toe with Denzel and not get blown off the screen or be pissing their pants.

"Clive has a great respect for Denzel but he was like 'I'm here too' and that's what we needed for this role."

Londoner Chiwetel, currently the world's busiest actor, proves to have more varieties than Heinz, adding New York detective to a character CV that includes futuristic assassin (Serenity ), transvestite shoe designer (Kinky Boots ) and mother-murdering bad guy (Four Brothers) and that was just last year.

Spike gave him a small part in She Hate Me (his underperforming sperm donor comedy) after seeing him in Dirty Pretty Things (for which Chiwetel won a British Independent Film best actor award).

"I saw him and right away I said 'who is that guy?'. He is a wonderful actor.

"While we were shooting this film I noticed that in every scene Chewy was really close to Denzel, it was like he was attached to him. I said 'I know what you're doing'. He said 'What Spike?'. I said 'no way is Spike cutting my ass from this movie. Denzel moves this way I take a step with him. You are going to have to go to Industrial Light and Magic to cut me out of this film'. "

Spike is famously multi-hyphenated in his approach to making movies, usually scripting directing, producing and occasion-ally acting in his own projects.

However, on this he was a director for hire on a co-production between Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment.

"Imagine is Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, they bought it for Ron Howard to direct, but Ron was working with Russell Crowe and he said 'I have this script for Cinderella Man' so Ron left and here we are."

Ironically Cinderella Man has had a double impact on Spike's career. It gave him Inside Man, which has had a warm critical reception following the drubbing of She Hate Me. But it has also hindered his attempts to get his next project, Save Us Joe Louis, a film about the boxing showdown between Louis and the German Max Schmeling, approved.

Schmeling shocked the world in the 1930s when he beat the supposedly invincible Joe Louis. Hitler's propaganda minister Goebbels, sensing an opportunity to promote German superiority, encouraged a rematch - which backfired when Schmeling was defeated.

"It's going to be epic," says Spike. "Terrence Howard is going to be Joe Louis and Hugh Jackman is going to play Schmeling. They are going to have to do some serious training.

"We have been trying to make it for six years. Every time it looked like it was going to happen we had set backs. The first was when Ali came out and, this is the mentality of the studios, they said 'well, boxing don't work'.

"That went away. We gathered momentum. Then Cinderella Man came out and it was 'Spike, boxing films don't work'.

"It is that kind of mentality that keeps good films from being made.

"I am not biased but Star Wars was turned down by every studio because of a film called Starman with Jeff Bridges.

"I'm not saying Save Us Joe Louis is going to be Star Wars but that is the mentality of the gatekeepers, the people that decide which films get made and which don't."

* Inside Man is now on general release