(released June 2003)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Reviewed by H. W. Moss
One of the problems with making an action adventure film is you run the risk of not having enough action or adventure. In order to squeeze as much of both out of a remake of the 1969 film that starred Michael Caine and Noel Coward, director F. Gary Gray turns up the incredibility factor in "The Italian Job" to the point where even rush hour traffic in Los Angeles is easily be manipulated by the super-savvy computer whiz on the team of international burglars.
For the most part, the audience bought it. That is probably because, while in the midst of following a fairly complex plot one does not stop to question what just happened, to whom or why. Oh, I see. They got the bullion laden armored car to stop on the dime they specifically needed it to stop on in order to pull off the robbery. And exactly how they nab the truck is another one of those "Awww, c'mon" scenes you can accept in fantasy or science fiction tales, but find strains credulity in what is supposed to be a "real life" story.
Mark Wahlberg is Charlie Coker, a thief with a conscience and majestic plans to steel 32 million in gold bars right out from under (literally) its rightful owners, an unidentified, under staffed and somewhat casual group of thugs guarding a safe in a villa in Venice, Italy. Thus, the origin of the title of the film.
After a perfectly timed daring daylight robbery and a high speed motorboat chase through the watery streets of Venice, the gang gets away. Or so they think. One of the happy bunch, Steve (Edward Norton), double crosses the others and makes off with the loot, but not before killing nice old John Bridger (Donald Sutherland) who was the guy everyone looked up to and who had a record as long as your arm. In the opening scenes Bridger phones his daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron), to tell her he has a present for her and that he is in Venice.
"With your parole officer's approval, I trust," she asks candidly.
Steve retreats to L. A. after killing Bridger and brutally machine gunning the others in their getaway truck which is upside down and under water. He thinks the gang is dead. Well, they should have died from hypothermia after falling into a glacial Alpine lake, but that's neither here nor there.
The story shifts to California where revenge as well as re-taking the loot becomes the focus for the survivors. Stella, a safe cracker who works for the Philadelphia Police Department, joins them ostensibly to avenger her father, but also to share in the loot.
What would an L. A. story be without its gangs? To pump up the threat level we are introduced to a bunch of Ukrainian thugs and what appear to be Hawaiian thugs. The leader of the Hawaiians is a massive sumo wrestler type covered with tattoos who has a penchant for miniature golf. The script is not as hardcore as you might think, given the circumstances, and has a playful side to it which deals with these underworld elements and Steve's serious lack of imagination.
However, if you thought product placement reached a nadir in Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Total Recall" (1998) with USA Today showing up in news stands on Mars, this film outdoes it in spades. Depending on your point of view, "The Italian Job" is either an innovative, exciting, daring heist film, or it is a gigantic infomercial touting everything from Snap-On-Tools, Global Security, Diet Pepsi, Dell computer, Carson Security and, not the least, the Mini Cooper car. In fact, the Mini is featured throughout the film almost as another character in the drama.
Every good bunch of safe crackers needs a computer genius and Lyle (Seth Green) is so clever he can turn L. A. drive time into a commuter's paradise. The running joke is that Lyle was Sean Fanning's roommate in college and really invented Napster's file sharing program. Fanning makes a cameo appearance demonstrating how he stole the program while Lyle was "napping," thus the origin of the now defunct music company's name.
The crew has a deaf-in-one-ear explosives expert, Left-Ear (Mos Def), a lady killer nick named Handsome Rob (Jason Statham) and a super mechanic called Wrench (Franky G) which makes for amusing background stories. The best comedic moment, however, comes when Lyle talks to himself while Handsome Rob seduces a cable company repair woman. Lyle delivers both sides of the (imagined) conversation as he watches Rob at work and it is a very funny bit.
Viewers will enjoy "The Italian Job" because of its over the top characters and hard to believe action sequences. Just so long as you don't go trying to out-think how the plot worked until the next morning.
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