The Italian Job Movie Review

A slick, sexy car-chase flick and a stimulating heist picture rolled into one, director F. Gary Gray's enjoyably escapist remake of 1969's action-caper "The Italian Job" is smarter, more tense and less predictable than its big-budget style and car-product-placement plot would lead you to expect.

Most action movies are stamped out of cookie-cutter molds. But I genuinely didn't know how the criminal-heroes were going to pull off this picture's elaborate, crook-vs.-crook climactic heist involving an armored-car shell game and new BMW Mini Coopers small enough to navigate through Los Angeles traffic jams, onto sidewalks and into subway tunnels.

My interest was piqued long before this payoff, however. The opening scene packs a great punch, as a charming, aging safe-cracker (Donald Sutherland) revels in the thrill of what he hopes will be his farewell to larceny and his crime career's piece de resistance. In Venice with an eclectic younger crew he's mentored (and now works for), they aim to steal a safe full of gold from an ancient mansion by blasting an exact-sized hole in all the floors between the safe and the canal water in the boat garage beneath the building.

As crafty and cracking with terrific tension as the robbery is, the James Bondian speed-boat-and-scuba-gear getaway is even smarter and contains only a bare minimum of obligatory capsized-gondola clichés.

Then comes the double-cross. A smarmy, pimp-mustachioed member of the gang (played by Edward Norton with entertaining relish) makes off with the entire $35 million in gold bars, leaving everyone else for dead after running their van off a bridge and emptying a clip of ammo into the river below. (That scuba gear comes in handy for the survivors.)

A year later, back in the U.S., the Italian job's mastermind (Mark Wahlberg) has tracked down Norton, so he reassembles the Venice crew (explosives man Mos Def, goofball techie Seth Green and glib, cockney-tough getaway driver Jason Statham), planning to get revenge in another sophisticated safe-cracking sting. But Wahlberg's strategy depends on recruiting Sutherland's curvy, whip-smart legit-world daughter (Charlize Theron), who does break into safes for a living -- she just does it at crime scenes for the FBI.

All kinds of complications arise -- not the least of which is that Norton has wised up and is on to them -- adding snappy twists and sly, on-the-fly alterations to Wahlberg's plans. But Gray has a firm grip on his convoluted plot and the result is a crisp, sharp-edged popcorn flick intelligent enough to satisfy moviegoers who want something more from a summer movie than hackneyed video-game heroics.

With the exception of Wahlberg, who is satisfactory but a bit colorless as an actor, the entire cast pops with personality and wit. Sutherland is especially memorable for his smooth but cautious confidence, tinged as it is with an underlying regret for having "spent half my kid's life in prison." And rapper Mos Def is a surprising standout as the explosives expert with a comical phobia of guard dogs. ("I had a bad experience," he explains sheepishly. "What happened?" asks Wahlberg. Def responds, "I had...a bad...experience.")

"The Italian Job," which borrows the Mini Cooper getaway gimmick but not much else from the European original, keeps the adrenaline pumping with clear, energetic cinematography and a nimble, bluesy-jazz score (by John Powell, "The Bourne Identity") that incorporates a marching-band drumline undercurrent to enhance the movie's chic tension.

The intricacies and unforeseen snags of the plot are at least as exciting as the car chases, and the fact that Gray ("The Negotiator") embraced -- even enhances -- this fact is part of what makes this film the first real cineplex stand-out of the summer.

Only at the very end does Gray drop the ball, employing an I-don't-know-how-to-end-my-movie voice-over wrap-up of all the story's loose ends. But even with this feeble screenwriting crutch of an epilogue, "The Italian Job" may still be the best action movie of the year.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Comments

The Italian Job Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG-13, Friday, May 30, 2003

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