The Italian Job

Stealing $35 million in gold from an Italian villa and staging a breakneck escape through the canals of Venice was the easy part. Retrieving the booty from a turncoat partner who obviously doesn’t believe in honor among thieves is the real “Italian Job.”

Refreshingly brisk and absent of smug cynicism, director F. Gary Gray’s remake of the 1969 British heist caper “The Italian Job” is a movie tailor made for summer, an afternoon popcorn movie featuring wonderfully engaging characters, exciting plot twists, and resourceful, hold-on-to-your-seat action.

“The Italian Job” also serves as redemption for director Gray, whose last film, the by-the-numbers “A Man Apart,” was so pedestrian it even managed to make star Vin Diesel look listless. No problem with “The Italian Job,” which begins with a bang, ends with a bang, and contains adequate plot and character pyrotechnics in-between the bookends.

The smart and observant screenplay by Donna Powers and Wayne Powers doesn’t just rehash the original film, but borrows key elements and delivers them as a whole new entity. The film begins in Venice, where master thief Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) and his crew, veteran safecracker John (Donald Sutherland), detail man Steve (Edward Norton), computer whiz Lyle (Seth Green), getaway driver Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), and explosive specialist Left Ear (Mos Def), have just stolen a king’s ransom in gold.

At the rendezvous, Steve shows his true colors, kills John, and leaves the rest of the crew for dead. Now sitting on the gold bars at his luxurious Los Angeles estate, Steve has no clue that Charlie and the crew survived, who with the help of John’s safe-cracking daughter Stella (Charlize Theron), are making plans to steal back the gold.

Since “The Italian Job” is a caper film, just walking in and taking the gold is out of the question. Instead, the crew hatch a clever scheme involving three Mini Cooper automobiles, a nightmarish traffic jam even by Los Angeles standards, and a precision chase that takes us and the participants through blocked intersections of Hollywood, the Metro subway tunnels, and eventually the sewer system.

While watching the coming attractions for “The Italian Job,” I was afraid that the trailers were giving away too much of the plot, but was pleasantly surprised to learn that film contains many unexpected surprises. Not everything is what it seems, and Gray and the writers go to great lengths to keep the audience on their collective toes. While some of the plot twists and stunts are outrageous, they work within context of the film. The cast goes a long way into helping us buy into the premise and the eventual outcome.

This is Wahlberg’s third remake in a row (“Planet of the Apes,” “The Truth About Charlie”), and he brings just the right amount of adversarial machismo to the role of Charlie, who genuinely cares about his co-conspirators and their well being, but can’t wait to trump Steve.

The writers have given each member of Charlie’s crew their own little bit of business, including Seth Green’s computer hacker Lyle, whose indubitable keyboard skills help us believe his claim that he was the original inventor of Napster. Jason Statham, who flexed his muscle in “The Transporter,” convincingly puts his pedal to the metal as the crew’s seasoned driver, while Mos Def is explosive as Left Ear, appropriately nicknamed after losing most of his hearing due to his chosen profession. Franky G is amusing as the crew’s new mechanic Wrench.

Norton, who has been extremely vocal about his forced participation in “The Italian Job” (the final film in a deal he made with Paramount) doth protest too much. He’s makes a terrific villain, and is much better here than is some of his personal picks. His interaction with Charlie, and eventually Stella, make him the man to hate, and are excellent set-ups for his comeuppance. Theron is especially feisty as Stella, the only non-criminal among the group, who instantly jumps at the opportunity to avenge her father’s death and get even with Steve.

With the help of editors Richard Francis-Bruce and Christopher Rouse, Gray manages to keep up the film’s frenetic pace, avoiding the pit stops that usually plague heist films. Shot on location in Italy, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, “The Italian Job” makes good use of Wally Pfister’s dazzling cinematography that keeps us up and close and personal with the action, including the final chase that pays homage to the original film with the reintroduction of the Mini Coopers, which serve as an antitheses of the SUV mentality that currently grips Southern California.

Unlike Sports Utility Vehicles, “The Italian Job” doesn’t roll over and play dead.


Remake of heist caper is a “Job” well done


Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green, Donald Sutherland, Jason Statham, Franky G. Directed F. Gary Gray. Rated PG-13. 104 Minutes.


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