By David Mumpower
May 27, 2003
Seth Green fans unite! The Italian Job is the film for you.
While some might expect this film to be a tour de force for Ed Norton as he plots against former friends he has recently betrayed, the reality is that neither Norton nor his storied counterparts Donald Sutherland, Charlize Theron and Mark Wahlberg carry the movie. Instead, it’s the other trio of actors, Jason Statham, Mos Def, and Seth Green, who deliver the high points of this no honor among thieves production.
Frequently compared to Ocean’s 11, a movie whose success is unquestionably responsible for the decision to re-make this 1969 Michael Caine classic which co-starred Noel Coward (yes, I’m serious), The Italian Job is the story of a group of highly skilled cat burglars who steal dozens of bars of gold from right under the eyes of several security men in a Venice villa. The twist is that Norton’s character, Steve Frezelli, gets greedy and backstabs his associates in order to keep all of the booty for himself. Since he knows they will pursue him to the ends of the earth to gain revenge, he attempts to kill them. As fate would have it, only Sutherland’s character, John Bridger, does not survive this act of terrorism. The rest of the crew make a daring underwater escape and immediately begin to seek vengeance on the deserter. And that’s just the first ten minutes of the movie.
The events that follow are to a degree demonstrated in the extended trailer for the movie, but there are enough surprises that the early Internet complaints about the whole film being given away in a single 90-second commercial are proven false. The Italian Job is not looking to shock and surprise throughout. Instead, it is banking upon an intelligent audience willing to guess along with the thieves. This sort of genre flick is catnip to me, as my favorite film of all time is To Catch a Thief. Oddly though, I didn’t love this re-make as much as I had hoped I would.
A lot of the problem stems from the leads. While I don’t have the abiding hatred of Mark Wahlberg that a lot of the public seems to have and even loved him in the underrated 2002 release The Truth About Charlie, I was left cold by his performance here as Charlie Croker (wild guess for his character’s name in his next film: Charlie). His work is the very definition of faceless vanilla acting. Even worse, the scenes involving the pseudo-paternal relationship he has with Donald Sutherland’s John Bridger are nothing short of excruciating. I was violently turned against the film during these three instances of heavy-handed See How Much We Love Each Other-ism.
Speaking of weak paternal relationships, Charlize Theron seems to grow more beautiful and less talented by the moment. Pinocchio isn’t this wooden. Even in the generic Stella Bridger role of Pretty Girl Destined to Fall in Love with Hunky Action Hero, she still finds a way to underachieve. I’m as dazzled by her looks as anybody so God knows I want to love her in these roles but she just doesn’t deliver the goods. When she talks, I find myself suddenly feeling the need to make a shopping list for the grocery store rather than pay any real attention to what she is saying. This is my personal defense mechanism against her attempts to be a thespian, but your mileage may vary. Coming off of Sweet November and Waking Up in Reno, she certainly had the benefit of lowered expectations working for her but still left me annoyed when she was onscreen.
Since I can’t stand Ed Norton in anything, The Italian Job certainly should be a film I dislike judging from my annoyance with all three major league characters plus Sutherland in his cameo role. It speaks volumes about how good Green, Statham and Def are that I still recommend the movie.
Statham is making quite a career for himself as the unique looking criminal whom audiences root for anyway. With Snatch, The Transporter and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Rent. Now.) already on his resume, he has already proven successful in these parts, and his effort here as Handsome Rob is as good as any of them. He’s the daring chauffeur whose penchant for fast driving once led him to a coast to coast chase with the cops. His ability to pick up women could have been cliché but with him, it comes across as charming and believable. Statham is one of my favorites for a reason. He has off the charts charisma and his lack of Hollywood cookie cutter good looks works for him rather than against him.
Mos Def charmed everyone with his surprisingly deft acting in Brown Sugar and he’s just as much fun here as an explosives expert who loves his work so much he lost his hearing to it. I can’t quite define what it is about his comedic delivery that I find so appealing, but for some reason, when he tells a joke, I laugh harder than normal. In The Italian Job, he is there to crack wise and he does so with a passion I find engaging.
And then there is Seth Green. As a computer hacker with a chip on his shoulder over a stolen idea, Seth’s portrayal of Lyle the Napster steals the show. He is given countless one-liners, and he pulls them off with skill and aplomb. The hacker geek was a tired contrivance in garbage like Tomb Raider and The Core but with just a little effort, director F. Gary Gray has managed to make Lyle seem much more realistic and believable. There is a joy and a kinetic energy when he is on screen that kicks The Italian Job up a notch from ordinary to extraordinary.
On the whole, The Italian Job is unfortunately less than the sum of its parts but that’s a relative condition since the parts in question are so strong. It’s definitely a watchable summer popcorn flick that delivers exactly what it promises. Just don’t go in expecting any more than that and you will assuredly get your money’s worth.
Read what She Said.