Film Reviews: Wednesday, May 22, 2003
The Italian Job\r\nStarring Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, and Edward Norton. Directed by F. Gary Gray. Written by Donna and Wayne Powers, based on Troy Kennedy Martin’s screenplay. Rated PG-13. Opens May 30.
Minis Are Back!

But sadly, the fun of the original The Italian Job is lost in this remake.


The original version of The Italian Job was a 1969 English movie starring Michael Caine and Sir Noël Coward, about a band of British thieves pulling a high-end heist in Turin. The Hollywood remake’s opening sequence takes place in Italy (in the more picturesque Venice), but the bulk of the action is set in boring old L.A. That’s hardly the worst mistake that the new version makes, though.

No, the worst mistake is in removing most of the fun. The English version had a broadly comic tone, but the current movie turns dark and serious in an ill-advised attempt to add some gravitas to what was a charmingly weightless film. It’s still about a gang of burglars headed up by a sharpie named Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg). The remake introduces a bad guy, a member of the gang (Edward Norton) who betrays them, kills the wise old thief (Donald Sutherland) who’s like a father to Charlie, and runs off with the gold bullion they all worked so hard to steal. A year later, Charlie meets with his old buddies and his deceased mentor’s daughter (Charlize Theron) as they prepare to exact their payback by stealing the gold back from the traitor.

You can just imagine some Hollywood suit looking at the original film and saying, “Let’s raise the stakes!” But what could lower the stakes more than a tired revenge plot or an utterly conventional romance? Almost everything idiosyncratic or personable from the 1969 film has been sanded off. The only comedy comes from the occasional stray wisecrack, and there’s certainly nothing to match the inspired bit from the original involving the line, “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”

The generic plot does no favors for Wahlberg, who we can definitively say is no good in bland leading-man roles such as in Planet of the Apes and The Truth About Charlie. He’s much better when he gets to show his goofy side (as in Boogie Nights) or plays second fiddle to an older, more experienced leading man (as in Three Kings). Here, he’s so stolid and uninteresting that Norton, who’s blatantly phoning in his performance, completely upstages him. So do the collective efforts of Jason Statham, Mos Def, and Seth Green, who play the members of Charlie’s crew, and each have their own moments.

The original movie’s signature bit, indeed its main reason for existing, was its witty extended climactic car chase involving three Mini Coopers (one red, one white, one blue) being pursued by the cops. The remake keeps the colored Minis and has them going through train tunnels and being chased by a helicopter. It’s not a bad sequence, but let’s face it — after The Matrix Reloaded, every other movie car chase looks trite. While The In-Laws stays faithful to the spirit of its source, The Italian Job goes relentlessly and needlessly dour, and the result is far less cool than the movie that was made 34 years ago.

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