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Dustin Putman

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The Italian Job (2003)
2 Stars

Directed by F. Gary Gray
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green, Jason Statham, Mos Def, Donald Sutherland, Franky G
2003 – 104 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, May 24, 2003.

Anyone familiar with my taste in movies will know I hold clear disdain for the heist genre. 2001's "The Score." 2001's "Heist." 2003's "Confidence." Paint them up with as many plot twists and splashy dialogue exchanges as you want, and they are still usually all exactly the same—by-the-numbers, empty, and thoroughly unnecessary. Based on the 1969 caper film of the same name starring Michael Caine and Benny Hill (unseen by me), "The Italian Job" knows it isn't going to set the bar for cinematic creativity, and wisely doesn't try. If there has to be more heist pictures in Hollywood, "The Italian Job"—like 2001's "Ocean's Eleven" remake before it—gets the formula right. Straight-forward, fast-paced, and very hip, the movie goes down with ease as an early summer diversion.

When a heist of $35-million in gold bullion successfully goes down in Venice, the group of nice-guy thieves, headed by career criminals Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) and John Bridger (Donald Sutherland), are swindled out of their share and left for dead by crooked partner Steve Frezelli (Edward Norton). All survive except John, who is murdered in cold blood.

Fast forward one year to Philadelphia, where Charlie and gang—professed Napster inventor Lyle (Seth Green), Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), and the half-deaf Left Ear (Mos Def)—have finally been able to track down Steve's whereabouts. Now living in a Los Angeles mansion, Steve believes he has gotten away with the gold. With the help of John's safecracker specialist daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron), Charlie and company set out to perform the ultimate heist by getting the gold back from Steve and seeking revenge for the death of their mentor and Stella's father.

Directed by F. Gary Gray with more satisfaction than his last effort, 2003's disposable "A Man Apart," "The Italian Job" holds no pretensions and wastes zero time in laying out its story and getting on with things. Whereas most heist pictures make no attempt to develop their characters beyond whether they are double-crossers or not, screenwriters Donna and Wayne Powers (2001's "Valentine") plainly lay out in the first fifteen minutes who the good and bad guys are. Furthermore, they surprise by taking the time to briefly give all of the participants' backstories, so the viewer knows a little something about each one before the con game begins.

The final third of the running time, which is solely dedicated to the heroes' payback on Steve, is action-packed and, for once, involving. The stunt work, which involves three Cooper Mini's darting in and out of L.A. traffic before moving down through the city's subway system, boasts real craftsmanship. On a side note, sales on the ultra-cool Cooper Mini's, which look a lot like boxcars, are likely to skyrocket once the movie is released, and for good reason.

Because "The Italian Job" hinges so heavily on its plotting, the characters are moved off to the sidelines. Mark Wahlberg, an uneven actor who embarrassed himself in 2002's "The Truth About Charlie" (another remake), is safely within his element this time as Charlie Croker. Then again, he doesn't have to fill the shoes of Cary Grant this time around. As the beautiful and talented Stella, Charlize Theron (2002's "Trapped") is as sultry and bewitching as ever. Unlike Wahlberg, Theron has yet to disappoint with a performance.

Seth Green (2001's "Rat Race"), Jason Statham (2002's "The Transporter"), and Mos Def (2002's "Showtime") likably fill out the supporting good guy team, offering up their usual brand of offbeat humor. Def, however, could use some work in speaking more clearly, as he mumbles his way through a fair share of his lines. On the other hand, Edward Norton (2002's "25th Hour"), who plays the slimy Steve, doesn't seem to have his heart in it, as all he seems to do is cash in a paycheck—rare for someone of Norton's proven talent.

There is honestly very little to criticize about "The Italian Job." It moves quickly, ends when it should, and gets the job done. Still, Hollywood execs should ask themselves if a remake of the 1969 original was really screaming to be made. As long as the heist genre continues to rake in crowds and cash, however, such motion pictures will continue to be made. "The Italian Job" is nothing new, that's for sure, but it has a rare intelligence and style that sets it apart from its many recent, lesser counterparts.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman