cast: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green, and Jason Statham
director: F. Gary Gray
106 minutes (12) 2003
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Paramount DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Steven Hampton
With old-style caper movies unaccountably back in fashion, perhaps it was a lack of ability by today’s screenwriters to concoct ‘fresh’ variations on this subgenre’s timeworn formula that led to such coolly presumptuous yet uninspired remakes as Ocean’s Eleven, and now this new version of British ‘classic’ The Italian Job…
Donald Sutherland downplays his pivotal but doomed role as the charismatic Bridger (a crime world figure memorably portrayed by Noel Coward in the 1969 original), the still-marginally gormless Mark Wahlberg replaces chatty Michael Caine as Charlie Croker and, arguably, Seth Green (an early escapee from the TV Buffy) is the stand-in for that fumblingly camp Professor played by TV comedian Benny Hill, 35 years earlier. Nothing much has changed in this peculiar corner of adventure cinema, has it?
Well, yes and no… F. Gary Gray’s keenly efficient remake offers important and largely welcome differences to Collinson’s 1969 picture. As the betrayed Bridger’s vengeful daughter Stella, the presence of Charlize Theron epitomises a significant shift in emphasis for this remake’s sexual politics. Unlike the merely ‘decorative’ (or, in the case of Irene Handl, tolerably annoying) ladies of the true-Brit Italian Job, this Hollywood adaptation makes Stella the expert safecracker who becomes an essential part of Croker’s gang. She looks fabulous dressed up for a restaurant date, in a basic black trouser suit, ready for her cat burglar duties, and even in TV engineer’s overalls, but Stella is a security specialist, an expert driver, and gets to punch out the bad guy in the film’s twist-ending finale.
True to the form of recent heist thrillers, though, Gray’s updated Italian Job is more about how our underworld heroes’ complex plans go awry and what they do to solve these unexpected problems, than just their straightforward execution of a scheme to steal gold bullion from Venice (using explosives and speedboats), then once again in L.A. (using Mini Coopers and traffic gridlock). The film may just as well have been re-titled ‘The American Job’! Still, it would be churlish to decry this as unimaginative nonsense when it offers such professionally wrought stunt work and plenty of amusing moments of character-based humour.
With Jason (The Transporter) Statham as ‘Handsome Rob’, and Seth Green as computer hacker Lyle, Wahlberg’s rather charmless hero benefits from having at least two cool and colourful sidekicks. Stacked against these, Edward Norton is hopeless as villain-of-the-piece, Steve. His ruthless betrayal of Croker’s crew after the opening scenes’ robbery, and later armed confrontations with them – during and following a daring theft from an armoured van on the streets of Los Angeles, are unfortunately lacking in drama or tension. Meanwhile, a wholly unconvincing subplot involving a nosy ‘fence’ with a cousin in the Russian mafia seems to have been added only to reference the original film’s interfering and obstructive Italian hoods.
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Give it an A for effort in the action sequences, then, but deduct some points for bland leading performances (Wahlberg was far better in 1998’s The Big Hit, while the immensely talented Norton is unquestionably capable of far better work), and its boringly predictable happy ending. Did they learn nothing from the Brit film’s memorable – and literal – cliffhanger?
DVD extras: Pedal To The Metal (18 minutes) is your typical gushy making-of featurette, yet it does show the immense scale of this megabuck production. Next, we have a six-minute interview with screenwriters Donna and Wayne Powers. It’s not very illuminating and it overuses behind-the-scenes footage as cutaways from the studio-bound writers but, seeing as they have little of interest to say, perhaps that’s just as well. Driving School (five minutes) outlines the mandatory training for actors to perform stunts on wheels. Mighty Minis (six minutes) offers nothing more than a slick advert for BMW’s new model Cooper, but does tell us the movie used 32 of the cars, specially customised, including the only electric versions ever built. High Octane (eight minutes) stresses the filmmakers’ choice of the physical over the virtual; so all car stunts were accomplished on the street, or on huge sets, without recourse to CGI or digital enhancement. There are six deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer rounding off this somewhat disappointing package.