Review by Dustin Putman
2½ stars out of 4
Anyone familiar with my taste in movies will know I hold clear disdain
for the heist genre. 2001's "The Score." 2001's "Heist." 2003's "Confidence."
Paint them up with as many plot twists and splashy dialogue exchanges
as you want, and they are still usually all exactly the same--by-the-numbers,
empty, and thoroughly unnecessary. Based on the 1969 caper film of
the same name starring Michael Caine and Benny Hill (unseen by me),
"The Italian Job" knows it isn't going to set the bar for cinematic
creativity, and wisely doesn't try. If there has to be more heist
pictures in Hollywood, "The Italian Job"--like 2001's "Ocean's Eleven"
remake before it--gets the formula right. Straight-forward, fast-paced,
and very hip, the movie goes down with ease as an early summer diversion.
When a heist of $27-million in gold bullion successfully goes down
in Venice, the group of nice-guy thieves, headed by career criminals
Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) and John Bridger (Donald Sutherland),
are swindled out of their share and left for dead by crooked partner
Steve Frezelli (Edward Norton). All survive except John, who is murdered in cold blood.
Fast forward one year to Philadelphia, where Charlie and gang--professed
Napster inventor Lyle (Seth Green), Handsome Rob (Jason Statham),
and the half-deaf Left Ear (Mos Def)--have finally been able to track
down Steve's whereabouts. Now living in a Los Angeles mansion, Steve
believes he has gotten away with the gold. With the help of John's
safecracker specialist daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron), Charlie
and company set out to perform the ultimate heist by getting the gold
back from Steve and seeking revenge for the death of their mentor and Stella's father.
The final third of the running time, which is solely dedicated to
the heroes' payback on Steve, is action-packed and, for once, involving.
The stunt work, which involves three
Cooper Mini's darting in and out of L.A. traffic before moving down
through the city's subway system, boasts real craftsmanship. On a
side note, sales on the ultra-cool Cooper Mini's, which look a lot
like boxcars, are likely to skyrocket once the movie is released, and for good reason.
Because "The Italian Job" hinges so heavily on its plotting, the characters
are moved off to the sidelines. Mark Wahlberg, an uneven actor who
embarrassed himself in 2002's "The Truth About Charlie" (another remake),
is safely within his element this time as Charlie Croker. Then again,
he doesn't have to fill the shoes of Cary Grant this time around.
As the beautiful and talented Stella, Charlize Theron (2002's "Trapped")
is as sultry and bewitching as ever. Unlike Wahlberg, Theron has yet
to disappoint with a performance.
Seth Green (2001's "Rat Race"), Jason Statham (2002's "The Transporter"),
and Mos Def (2002's "Showtime") likably fill out the supporting good
guy team, offering up their usual brand of offbeat humor. Def, however,
could use some work in speaking more clearly, as he mumbles his way
through a fair share of his lines. On the other hand, Edward Norton
(2002's "25th Hour"), who plays the slimy Steve, doesn't seem to have
his heart in it, as all he seems to do is cash in a paycheck--rare
for someone of Norton's proven talent.
There is honestly very little to criticize about "The Italian Job."
It moves quickly, ends when it should, and gets the job done. Still,
Hollywood execs should ask themselves if a remake of the 1969 original
was really screaming to be made. As long as the heist genre continues
to rake in crowds and cash, however, such motion pictures will continue
to be made. "The Italian Job" is nothing new, that's for sure, but
it has a rare intelligence and style that sets it apart from its many
recent, lesser counterparts.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman