The Italian Job
review by Elias Savada, 30 May 2003

Mark Wahlberg admits that he gets car sick easily, but putting him behind the wheel of a suped up MINI Cooper as debonair ex-con master-thief Charlie Croker in this flashy, global expansion of the 1969 British caper film makes The Italian Job not at all unsettling for the rest of us. He's not quite Cary Grant, be he's in the ballpark.(OK, Cary's at home plate and Mark's out in left field.) And Mark, what's with all these remakes -- Planet of the Apes, The Truth About Charlie, and now The Italian Job? As for us guys, watching the glamorous Charlize Theron in the driver's seat of another tiny companion car (of a trio that patriotically engulfs the film in a series of wild rides) has a way of easing anyone's queasiness. So what if the film isn't entirely believable! It works, in a fast and fleeting manner, despite a lite script, thanks to director F. Gary Gray's brisk, streamlined direction, the nearly non-stop chase sequences, and half-dozen likable, if somewhat eccentric, "bad" guys turned vengefully determined scoundrels who are playing a concise, clever game of sixupmanship against one of their own who has gone over to his dark side.

Mr. Nasty is none other than Edward Norton, whose cold-hearted Steve Frezelli bears a strikingly close resemblance to Jack Teller, the aggressive, greedy character he played in The Score, i.e. a backstabber (in The Italian Job he's a straight-shooter) who deserves, and ultimately gets, an elongated payback. While the film is an eye-popping diversion, the laser-guided writing by Donna and Wayne Powers doesn't approach the charm or sophistication of Ted Griffin's 2001 remake of Ocean's Eleven. For comparison purposes, let's call the new heist film Ocean's Lite.

When the original late-'60s edition was released, I was just starting my freshman year at college. I missed it back then in deference to other, more scholarly, priorities; it still remains unseen by this reviewer. FYI, Wahlberg filled Michael Caine's shoes, when Wahlberg wasn't yet a sparkle in his parents' eyes, let alone recording artist Marky Mark or a Calvin Klein underwear model. Donald Sutherland (vs. playwright/actor Noel Coward in the earlier film) is featured, too briefly, as safecracker John Bridger, a charming codger who has spent too many years in prison and not enough time with his now-grown daughter Stella (Theron), a professional, and honest, safe-and-bolt technician living in Philadelphia.

Like any good action film, the derring-doing starts from a sparkling get go. The boys are in the midst of a Venetian "holiday," where mere trinkets won't do for vacation memories. The snappy, drumbeat-intense score (John Powell) and wall/ceiling/floor-defying cinematography (Wally Pfister) bombard us with pinpoint precise information from a fly-on-the-wall p.o.v. Toss in some occasional light-hearted dialogue, a few amusing decoys, and quicker than you can say polizia the gang has absconded with $35 million in gold bars.

Unfortunately, a very profitable day at the office turns into a fatal pink slip for John. While the group celebrates amongst the picturesque Austrian Alps, Steve pulls his deadly double-cross, leaving the others for dead in an icy tomb and stooping to conquer a ton or some of bullion.

A year later, the boys gather for relief from a good case of get back, brought on by a mean-spirited betrayal and a bout of hypothermia. The supporting cast get their own usual nicknames and interesting back stories. Seth Green a.k.a. Scott Evil, Jason (The Transporter) Statham, hip-hop artist Mos Def, and Franky G morph into Lyle a.k.a. Napster (techno-geek), Handsome Rob (wheel job/ladykiller), Left-Ear (explosives expert), and Wrench (as in Mister Goodwrench), a potpourri of specialists. Green, a natural comic, gets the most amusing pissed-off pseudo-history, wherein an unfortunate snooze in college allowed his roommate (cameo'd by napster founder Shawn Fanning) to steal what would become the internet's first popular music service. Stella, seeking closure over her father's death, quickly relents to be the group's safebusting babe, armed with magic fingertips and a sporty iPod. What a babe!

The rest of the film, just over seventy minutes, deals with the slick plans, its energetic execution, and the quick-witted alterations as the gang plays traffic chess with Steve on Los Angeles' well-congested streets to checkmate what's left of the Venetian loot. A small portion of that time deals with every American's worst nightmare -- the cable's out. A bigger chunk is spent watching those marvelous BMW MINIs (a centerpiece of the original film) scurrying about choked-up arteries (that's why sidewalks were invented), along the tracks of the local subway, and through the tunnels of L.A.'s oft-filmed (Them, The Core, Terminator II) storm drain system. For good measure, some Ukrainian mobsters are tossed into the ever-maddening chase.

Sure, some people are in it for the money. We're here for the fun! Go, watch The Italian Job, and on the way home pick up a six-pack of MINI Coopers. They'll fit in the closet.


 

Directed by:
F. Gary Gray

Starring:
Mark Wahlberg
Charlize Theron
Edward Norton
Seth Green
Jason Statham
Mos Def
Franky G
Donald Sutherland

Written by:
Donna Powers 
Wayne Powers
Troy Kennedy Martin

Rated:
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult
guardian.

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