Film review: Stone Of Destiny

(PG) Director: Charles Martin Smith Running time: 96 minutes **

BLOWS to the head are delivered with more subtlety than Stone Of Destiny, which begins with a skirl of bagpipes and a camera racing across some piece of the Highlands in the shadow of an old castle. Can you guess which country we're in yet?

It's a Sunday Post-coated version of Scotland, with restful scenery and mince with everything. It all seems so familiar, I eventually realised where I'd seen it before – at one of those "living museums" in which drama students don puffy shirts and tartanalia to demonstrate tweed weaving and oatcake bakes.

The stealing of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1950 has the makings of a good Ealing-style heist movie. But you need energy and zip to get a blimp like this off the ground, and this picture struggles to generate much engagement or excitement. For instance, the brains behind the abduction, Ian Hamilton, is played by Charlie Cox, a sweet-faced English actor who gamely straps on the accent but struggles with a lead role so blankly intangible that you can't tell if he has the makings of a star or just the next Orlando Bloom.

The cast also includes Stephen McCole as the stone's heavy lifter, Gavin Vernon, and Billy Boyd as Hamilton's best friend, who pulls out of the mission when he thinks it is becoming too risky. Both are students at Glasgow University, despite being more than 10 years older than the average postgraduate, but you have to give writer/director Charles Martin Smith full marks for getting value from the university, which not only plays itself, but also Edinburgh and part of Westminster Abbey. In supporting roles there's Robert Carlyle as John MacCormick, and Peter Mullan as Ian's stern and overcritical father, giving good glower over the tea table.

Those not in favour of an independent Scotland are represented by an embittered old drunk in the Glasgow University bar. In other words, the arguments for and against Scottish Nationalism are rendered as People Who Are Young And Groovy vs People Who Are Not. You needn't be an ardent Unionist to feel that the some of the finer points of Scotland's devolution debate may have been lost here. This wouldn't matter much if the story was deftly realised – but this is history in big concrete boots, as told to a tiny, inattentive child, who may also be hard of hearing.

This Ladybird guide to Scottishness clearly yearns for simpler times when Westminster Abbey was guarded by one old bloke with a torch and Scots attended university until they were 40, while a hunt for car keys is treated in a manner that even Brian de Palma might consider overblown. However, I did enjoy the moment when a radio announced Scotland was rejoicing over the disappearance of the Stone of Scone, and the film cut to some Glaswegians dancing in the streets with one glass of whisky. Never has national exultation been depicted with such parsimony.

Still, this sclerotically old-fashioned treatment may appeal to Scotophiles who found Monarch Of The Glen a bit edgy and unsettling. There's nothing cynical about Stone Of Destiny; its heart is firmly in the right place and, like the Stone, it's a big solid thing. But alas, also like the Stone, it feels phoney and makes for lumpy viewing.

• On general release from Friday