The Italian Job (2003) / Action-Crime
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and language Running Time: 104 min.
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green, Mos Def, Jason Statham, Donald Sutherland
Director: F. Gary Gray
Screenplay: Donna Powers, Wayne Powers (based on the 1969 film)
"Marky Mark" Wahlberg must have been kicking himself in the fanny after passing up the chance to be in the immensely entertaining Steven Soderbergh heist flick, Ocean's Eleven. His commitment to the critically panned remake of Planet of the Apes prevented him from joining the fun, which would have reunited him for the third time with George Clooney, but saw the role go to Matt Damon instead. One can understand that when the remake of another hip ensemble-cast heist flick, The Italian Job, would land on his lap, Wahlberg might jump at the chance, and although the supporting cast isn't as impressive as that of Ocean's, these lesser-known players are up to the task, and they have a proven director of comedy and action in F. Gary Gray (Fridays, The Negotiator) to make this as hip and fun an action-packed romp as possible.
Wahlberg is the leader of a gang of skilled super-thieves, who pull off an extremely intricate heist of millions of dollars worth of gold bars in Venice, Italy. It's an exhilarating chase, and one wonders whether they are in it for the money than for the thrill, a question veteran thief John Bridger (Sutherland) poses to Wahlberg shortly before being executed when the gang is sabotaged by inside man, Steve Frezelli (Norton), who makes off with the gold and the assumption that the rest are dead. Now the boys plot revenge for their fallen mentor, and they enlist the aid of John's daughter, Stella, also a safe-cracker extraordinaire, which will come in handy when trying to steal back the gold from another expert in thievery.
The Italian Job isn't exactly blessed with the most proven of screenwriting teams in Donna and Wayne Powers (Deep Blue Sea, Valentine), but in all fairness, points aren't scored in a heist flick from sparkling conversation. Rather, it's the hipness factor that is key, along with a good sense of fun and camaraderie, and if there are two words which will adequately describe the sensation of watching this film, they are "hip" and "fun." There's a good dose of humor amid all of the exciting chase scenes, although I admit that the biggest chuckle for me was the brief random appearance of Spider-Man during a key moment of the film, for reasons I cannot even begin to speculate, but it did get my mind off of thinking it was just a commercial for Pepsi Blue, who prominently have their billboard as close to the action as possible.
The ensemble cast has a good chemistry together, although anyone looking for a great performance from Edward Norton won't be satisfied that he sleepwalks through this one, claiming he was contractually obligated to make the movie. I'm not sure why Norton should complain, as The Italian Job is easily one of the most entertaining films of 2003, and much of the credit should go to director Gray as well as cinematographer Wally Pfister (Insomnia, Memento) for the truly sumptuous visual look of the film. Although not really big on special effects, this is a beautiful looking film, with its scenes Italian vistas, and even the subways look good. Although not exactly a faithful remake, the trademark Mini Coopers are here, and they do milk them for all they are worth in both the humor and action department.
Although there is a high-BS factor in any big heist flick, and a definite predictability, The Italian Job still delivers mightily on entertainment value, with some funny moments and breathtaking stunt work. Hopefully, people aren't so turned off by Wahlberg's penchant for misfires when it comes to remakes, because you'll be missing out on the fun. Fans of the original film may not feel the remake is better, but those who enjoyed the fun that was 2001's Ocean's Eleven, The Italian Job steals the formula like the best of pros.
©2003 Vince Leo