reviewed by Ken Hanke
Following hot on the heels of the abysmal A Man Apart — a film so bad that Vin Diesel may now wish he hadn’t been quite so quick to turn down that Fast and the Furious sequel — we have a new movie from director F. Gary Gray, a remake of a 1969 Michael Caine crime caper also called The Italian Job. Saying that this new Job is a better job than A Man Apart is faint praise since just about anything this side of Roberto Benigni’s Pinocchio is better than A Man Apart.
Actually, there’s nothing really wrong with The Italian Job except for a pretty high ho-hum factor. I mean, there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before with the possible exception of a chase scene involving Mini Coopers (which exists in a minor form in Goldmember) and Edward Norton sporting a mustache seemingly made from Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows (not to mention a soul patch possibly crafted from the leftovers). But it’s all done with a fair degree of style and even some wit.
Having proved he was no Cary Grant in The Truth About Charlie, Mark Wahlberg now demonstrates that he’s also no Michael Caine (not that I think anyone has been devoting a lot of time to wondering about that). The former Marky Mark continues to plod through movies with a vaguely agreeable air so long as the script doesn’t call for him to emote, at which times he merely looks like he’s about to be unwell. That’s pretty much the case here, but as in Charlie, the rest of the cast makes up for Wahlberg’s undynamic presence.
Well, most of them do. Edward Norton (whose performances are starting to wear a little thin with me, but who blessedly does not find it necessary here to take off his shirt so we can all see the hunk lurking beneath the slightly geeky surface) made the movie under protest to finish off a contractual commitment to Paramount. His unhappiness shows — and not without reason. If we were still in the days of the studio system, this would be what used to be called a punishment picture — a movie where an actor is cast because he or she did something to annoy the studio bosses. In this case, it’s not the picture that’s a stinker; it’s the role — a pretty lame bad-guy part considerably beneath an actor of Norton’s standing. But rather than making the best of a bad situation (it isn’t hard to imagine Norton’s attitude when told he would be a supporting player to Wahlberg), he stalks through his role in the most grimly unenthused manner possible. There are, however, a few compensations — Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Seth Green, Mos Def and, briefly, Donald Sutherland.
The screenplay pretty much follows its 1969 predecessor, except for elaborating on the original by having Norton’s character pocket the movie’s $35 million heist for himself — and ill-advisedly plugging the Grand Old Man of crime capers, John Bridger (Sutherland), thereby setting the other thieves on him for revenge as well as monetary compensation. It’s all a little bit too much like The Score — which was no great shakes to begin with, except for those people charting Robert DeNiro’s decline — and it thinks it’s Ocean’s 11 with car chases and explosions added. The Italian Job is more fun than The Score, but it’s a long way from the wit and panache of Ocean’s 11. The movie’s two heist sequences are certainly more imaginatively handled than the interminable one in The Score, and the chases are clever and of a high technical proficiency — complete with bone-jarring Dolby Digital sound effects.
There are quite a few bright moments in the film, but nothing truly outstanding. This is the sort of movie you can enjoy well enough for the 104 minutes it’s onscreen, but it isn’t likely to make you run out to Wal-Mart at midnight when the DVD comes out. If The Italian Job does anything, it’s most likely to make you want to run out and buy a new Mini Cooper.