Review by Paul Stathakis | 2003

In 1969, a slick caper film hit the big screen. It was crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed and notable, not only for its superb Mini Austin chase and twist end­ing, but for its cast, which includ­ed the great Michael Caine. The movie was called “The Ital­ian Job.”

Now in 2003 stu­dios have decid­ed to rein­vent the clas­sic by cast­ing big Hol­ly­wood hon­chos like Mark Wahlberg, Char­l­ize Theron, and Edward Nor­ton. But every­thing about this remake is dif­fer­ent. The char­ac­ters are younger, their motives are dif­fer­ent, and the gad­gets they use are extreme­ly advanced. Hav­ing recent­ly watched “The Good Thief” — also a remake, but a sharp heist film — I can’t say I enjoyed “The Ital­ian Job.”

The film begins in Venice, where John Bridger (Don­ald Suther­land) and his men are prepar­ing an impor­tant rob­bery. They end up steal­ing a large safe filled with $35 mil­lion in gold bars, and after flee­ing guards on speed­boats, the team meets in a seclud­ed area to cel­e­brate their suc­cess­ful caper.

The group includes mas­ter­mind Char­lie (Wahlberg), his assis­tant Steve (Nor­ton), com­put­er expert Lyle (Seth Green), and get­away dri­vers Left-Ear (Mos Def) and Hand­some Rob (Jason Statham). While rejoic­ing, each char­ac­ter makes up a “to buy list.” Rob dreams of pur­chas­ing an Aston Mar­tin Van­quish while Lyle desires a loud stereo sys­tem capa­ble of strip­ping women’s clothes off. But then comes the ele­ment of sur­prise. One of the men is a trai­tor and he wants it all. He wants the gold. He kills Bridger and runs off with the bars. From there on, the sto­ry is imprac­ti­cal.

Cro­ker takes a trip to L.A. to vis­it Sutherland’s daugh­ter, Stel­la (Char­l­ize Theron). He informs her that the man respon­si­ble for her father’s death is some­where in Cal­i­for­nia and that he needs her help to get revenge. “Steal­ing that gold is not going to bring my father back,” says Stel­la, but Cro­ker claims, “It’s not about the gold. John was like a father to me too.”

Then comes anoth­er pre­dictable part, Stel­la final­ly accepts to lend her safe-crack­ing exper­tise. So the new pack, led by Cro­ker, is deter­mined to “steal the day” (like the poster says) and make it look slick too.

Ocean’s 11 is the kind of remake you appre­ci­ate and respect, because its char­ac­ters are still cool, the script is still charm­ing and respects the orig­i­nal to a cer­tain degree, con­tains a deri­sive pay­off, and refined per­for­mances. The Ital­ian Job lacks all those furtive ingre­di­ents that make a fun sum­mer block­buster.

First, the action is brain­less, too brain­less for words, and the chem­istry between its stars is nowhere close to being believ­able. And when it comes to laughs, the film goes for cheap ones. For exam­ple, Seth Green’s char­ac­ter claims he is the orig­i­nal inven­tor of the Nap­ster pro­gram but that his col­lege room­mate stole it from him while he was asleep. Not fun­ny. And there’s even a scene where Cro­ker intro­duces Stel­la to the group, explain­ing each member’s back­ground and how they became thieves. Very poor attempt at gen­er­at­ing humor and pro­vid­ing the char­ac­ters with dis­tinc­tive back­grounds.

Jason Statham, whom I recent­ly saw in The Trans­porter and adored in Snatch, is the only one who tru­ly stands out. He is his usu­al self: cool, sar­cas­tic, gut­sy, and tough. He hard­ly speaks, usu­al­ly stand­ing in the back­ground but observ­ing all the action. When he does final­ly speak, there’s a sense of relief since he seems to be the clever­est one of them all. In fact, I still think he would’ve made a bet­ter leader than Whal­berg.

Aside from a brief chase involv­ing three Mini Coop­ers, which doesn’t top the orig­i­nal in any way, “The Ital­ian Job” is not amus­ing nor is it enter­tain­ing. It had the poten­tial to be a grand action film. At times, espe­cial­ly at the very begin­ning, it feels like it’s going to pull a 360 degree turn on us, that it’s going to daz­zle us, be orig­i­nal and inven­tive, hard-knock­ing with a decent pay­off. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the film is nei­ther of those things. In short, it’s the messi­est job of the sum­mer.

 

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