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Rating 7/10


The Italian Job

May 29, 2003
by Dan Lybarger
 

Available on VHS (DVD link at bottom of page)
Original 1969 film also available on VHS (DVD link at bottom of page)


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A friend of mine lamented that the new remake of the droll 1969 comedy The Italian Job was little more than a collection of outlandishly improbable vehicle chases.

She's right, but the fourteen-year-old in me is eternally grateful.

The new film offers high-speed fuel-wasting that demonstrates some genuine creativity and flair.

Screenwriters Donna Powers and Wayne Powers and director F. Gary Gray deserve bonus points for not trying to replicate Troy Kennedy-Martin's original script. There's really no way to repeat the charm of the original film's car chases through the streets and the steps of Turin or the low-key banter with Michael Caine, NoŽl Coward and Benny Hill. All that's left of the first film is this version are the Cooper Minis and a couple of tiny details. The original characters have been dropped, and Venice and Los Angeles have taken over for Turin. 

As a result the 2003 take on The Italian Job is enjoyable on its own terms. If the plot seems a bit routine, the setting and action scenes more than compensate.

Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights) has teamed with an ace crew of thieves to pull off an elaborate gold heist in everyone's favorite Italian city with canals. Among the crew are:

  • a wizened safecracker named John Bridger (Donald Sutherland)

  • Handsome Rob, a suave Englishman (Jason Statham from Snatch) who drives women and vehicles with equal expertise

  • a scholarly demolition specialist (rapper Mos Def) dubbed Left Ear

  • a gifted computer hacker named Lyle (Seth Green, the Austin Powers movies) whose skill in other areas is negligible

  • a shifty fellow with the dry moniker of Steve (Edward Norton)

After a spectacular boat chase involving the Venetian cops, the lads make off with the goldt. Steve, however, decides that sharing isn't his thing and betrays his partners.

Steve uses deadly force to acquire his accomplices' shares, but he inadvertently leaves most of them alive. Charlie and the rest of the crew trCharlize Theron in The Italian Joback him down to LA and plan to sting him. To make their revenge sweeter, they recruit John's daughter Stella (Charlize Theron), who shares her dad's persuasiveness with safe doors and who has a lead foot under the wheel of her Cooper Mini.

Narrative depth and logic (where do they get the money to buy all of those customized Mini cars?) take a back seat to action, and that's actually a good thing. Gray and the Powers duo come up with some truly jaw dropping set pieces. The Venetian opening is nail biting enough, but the LA scenes  feature some imaginative chases through subways and actually bother to acknowledge some of the real life obstacles that accompany driving in LA.

On the human side, Mark Wahlberg is pleasantly bland in the lead, but this bunch of supporting characters would probably upstage anyone. There are Russian mobsters, struggling actors and an enormous fellow with the ironic nickname of "Skinny Pete."

From all of this bunch, Seth Green steals the show. Through a series of skillfully improvised sequences, Green takes what would normally be a dull token role and creates the film's most engaging character. Hold on to your sides when Green enviously watches Statham making the moves on yet another female conquest and  starts mimicking the other man's Cockney drawl.

With more sequences like this one, the new Italian Job could have been as fondly recalled as the original. Still, when it's working, the current film is as sweet as a plate of cannoli. 

Bonus: Click here to read my www.nitrateonline.com interview with director F. Gary Gray.

© 2003 Dan Lybarger

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