Credit: Inside Man: David Lee

Ron Howard initially pondered making this bank-heist-gone-bad picture. Then Russell Crowe said yes to Cinderella Man with Howard helming, and Inside Man bounced into Spike Lee’s court. Basketball fanatic Lee is tickled that Washington’s NYPD detective character is named Keith Frazier, an homage to hoops legend Walt. Lee also wanted Frazier’s partner (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to be named Monroe, as in Earl. ”But Denzel [Washington] squashed that,” says Lee, chortling. ”He said, ‘This film is not the New York Knicks.”’

Jodie Foster came aboard as a mysterious power broker, and having just done Flightplan, according to Lee, ”she felt relieved that the weight of the film was not on her shoulders.” Not that it all falls to Washington, either. ”This is an ensemble piece,” the star says. ”I only worked I think four and a half weeks.” Lighting up his fourth Lee joint (the first since 1998’s He Got Game), Washington adopts a Noo Yawk accent as he negotiates with a brainiac robber (Clive Owen) who takes hostages. So how come another police story? ”I’m telling you, I’m so sick of it,” says Washington. ”It’s like all the parts now, on TV, too — crime fighters and lawyers.” But he makes this guy different, right? ”Well, we’ll see.” (March 24)