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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