By Kim Hollis
May 27, 2003
The Italian Job is the very definition of a fun summer popcorn movie. A remake of the 1969 film that starred Michael Caine, the movie has lots of action, great car chase scenes and goofy laughs galore, affording the opportunity to sit back and enjoy a pure adrenaline rush for a couple of hours.
The movie starts out in Venice, where an aging con named John Bridger (Donald Sutherland) and his crew have gathered together to pull an intricately-planned heist that will reap huge rewards if it goes smoothly. We learn early on that John has regrets about the way he has lived his life; primary among them is the fact that he has missed getting to truly know his daughter Stella (Charlize Theron) due to the fact that he’s been incarcerated for the bulk of her 30-something years. We also discover that John alleviates that guilt somewhat with his fatherly relationship with one of his cohorts, Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg). This relationship is the basis for some of the movie’s more awful scenes. For some reason, Sutherland and Wahlberg make their bond feel very forced and uncomfortable.
The other participants in the caper are Steve Frezelli (Ed Norton), Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), Left Ear (Mos Def) and Lyle (Seth Green). It’s apparent that this group has been working together for an extended period of time and that the link between them is very close. That’s why it’s such a surprise when Steve double-crosses them after their successful theft of $35 million in gold bars, killing John in the process. Or it would be if you hadn’t seen it happen in every trailer and commercial for the film.
Though this setup is somewhat awkward, what follows is a terrific game of cat-and-mouse as Charlie and Co. join with John’s daughter to avenge his death and recover their gold. The movie adroitly alternates from action to suspense and over to pure comedy as it barrels along to its feel-good finish.
The performances are somewhat varied in quality, which makes the movie a bit uneven at times. The aforementioned scenes with Wahlberg and Sutherland definitely fall in the awkward category, but Marky Mark manages to have even less chemistry with Theron. It’s not all his fault, though. She’s just sleepwalking through this film, delivering her lines with a flatness and boredom that are painfully obvious.
That’s okay, though, because their co-stars bring plenty to the table. Foremost among them is probably Seth Green, who is hilarious as the computer geek who demands to be called “The Napster” due to a set of comical circumstances. He probably elicits the movie’s most laughs and shows why he has such a cult following for his role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Following up his first attempt as a headliner in The Transporter, Jason Statham here returns to the ensemble type of role for which he is best known. He isn’t really treading any new ground, but it doesn’t matter. Statham is a lot of fun in the role as the quick-witted driver who gets all the girls.
You probably missed Mos Def in last year’s Brown Sugar, but he definitely displays the same charisma and sense of comic timing as explosives expert Left Ear. There are also solid supporting performances from Franky G. (who was also great in the recent Confidence), Gawtti as Skinny Pete and Olek Krupka as Mashkov.
And then there’s Ed “Please Call Me Edward” Norton. Generally regarded as one of the finer actors of his generation, the main reason we know that he’s the bad guy in The Italian Job is because he sports a freaky Christopher Walken hairdo and sinister-looking facial hair. To his credit, though, despite the fact that we’re never really given an explanation as to why he would be so vehemently bitter toward the aging master safe cracker John, he is able to show a lot of emotion with simple facial tics or brief haunted looks while the film’s opening caper is taking place, making it clear that Steve has issues of jealousy and contempt.
The film also has some non-human stars – three Mini Coopers are used in The Italian Job’s biggest heist scene, and the little cars make for a very unusual getaway vehicle, providing some awesome chase scenes and opportunities to turn the genre on its ear a bit.
After its generic start, The Italian Job moves at a breakneck speed for almost a full hour before it loses some steam. At that point the movie bogs down for a period of time before rushing headlong to its peak. Helping to drive it along is an outstanding soundtrack and score, with music switching from caper-quality background accompaniment to heart pumping rock and back again.
So check your brain, grab yourself a concession counter snack, settle in, and get ready to enjoy the ride. The Italian Job isn’t a perfect movie but it is highly entertaining and a fine little two-hour diversion.
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