Archive for Thursday, May 29, 2003

Remake of ‘Italian Job’ has plenty of drive

(PG-13) ***

May 29, 2003

Don't worry about a certain racing sequel coming out next weekend,
"The Italian Job" is the real definition of "fast and furious."

Filled with easy-to-like characters, innovative action sequences and
a story rife with momentum, the movie is as endearingly zippy as the
BMW MINIs the heroes use to pull off their scam. Despite a
theatrical/television trailer that reveals EVERYTHING - curse that
Paramount marketing team - filmmaker F. Gary Gray ("Friday") crafts a
spirited caper, even if one knows when all the plot twists are coming.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Charlie Croker, the role popularized by
Michael Caine in the 1969 film it's loosely based upon. Charlie and
his gang have just pulled off an audacious gold theft using the
canals of Venice as their getaway. As the men celebrate their good
fortune with a champagne toast, Charlie's mentor John (Donald
Sutherland) dispenses the advice: "There are those who steal to
enrich their lives and those who steal to define their lives."

However, one of the crew (Edward Norton) opts for some further
enrichment and makes off with the gold while leaving his former
comrades to die.

A year later, Charlie and the surviving members (Seth Green, Mos Def
and Jason Statham) discover the turncoat living in Los Angeles.
Joined by Stella (Charlize Theron), the safecracking daughter of
their slain colleague John, the five hatch a plan to get the gold ...
and to get even.

What separates a good heist movie from a routine one?

Much like "Ocean's Eleven" from two years ago, "The Italian Job"
realizes that it's not the surprises of the story but the humor and
quirkiness of the individuals that makes the film stand up to repeat
viewings. Gray and screenwriters Donna and Wayne Powers ("Deep Blue
Sea") start with some vivid characterizations then cast against type
to fill the roles.

The laconic Wahlberg ("The Perfect Storm") is hardly the person one
would envision stepping into the shoes of the smarmy, fast-talking
Michael Caine. But somehow his relaxed composure helps to make the
more exaggerated aspects of the movie easier to swallow.

Also an unusual choice is "Snatch" lead Jason Statham as the
character Handsome Rob. It would have been tempting to place some
"Dawson's Creek"-type pretty boy in the part, but the bald, cockney
Statham seems plausible based on his sheer charisma. In one of the
funniest scenes, costar Green (Scott Evil from the "Austin Powers"
franchise) does a dead-on impression of what he envisions Handsome
Rob's pickup technique probably sounds like.

As the computer genius of the bunch, Green is a one-man army of
one-liners. Especially funny is his obsession with claiming to have
been ripped off by Napster. It's one thing to create a hilarious
running gag involving the file sharing program; it's another to bring
the creator, Shawn Fanning, in on the joke.

Sure, this latest "Italian Job" is a frothy distraction without a
profound idea in its head. But those who claim the original British
one is a superior film need to wipe the nostalgia from their eyes and
watch that sloppy flick again.

Despite an entertaining finale, the original is often a chore to sit
through. Aside from Michael Caine and Benny Hill (yes, THAT Benny
Hill), the dozens of characters introduced are virtually
interchangeable. And the first act is a narrative roller coaster of
mismatched ideas. (The excruciatingly repetitive theme song alone is
enough to make one want to drive off a cliff.)

This American updating is simply better ... whether one's been
exposed to the spoiling trailers or not.

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