Mark Wahlberg proves once again that he's a capable lead with his workmanlike performance in this super-slick caper film, a vastly improved remake of the 1969 thriller starring Michael Caine. The erstwhile Marky Mark is suitably intense as the no-nonsense protégé of a ready-to-retire master thief (Donald Sutherland), who accompanies him on a Venice heist that nets their gang a cool $35 million in gold. When one of their sleazy partners (Edward Norton) hijacks the bullion and kills the aging mentor in cold blood, Wahlberg enlists his other crew members (Jason Statham, Seth Green, Mos Def) in a complicated scheme to regain the swag and wreak vengeance on the killer. Glam girl Charlize Theron is rather improbably cast as Sutherland's daughter, a talented safecracker who works as a bank-security consultant; yet she manages to convince the viewer that she's willing and eager to join the lawbreakers and take down the man who murdered her father. As has become de rigueur in today's caper movies, The Italian Job devotes considerable footage to the deployment of high-tech gadgetry by the thieves. Seth Green, whose techno-geek is the film's most colorful character, uses his computer hacking skills to paralyze traffic in Los Angeles -- a move that precipitates the film's most suspenseful sequence, an extended car chase admirably staged by director F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator) and tightly edited to maintain a crackling pace. The well-chosen cast is uniformly good, and there's considerable humor to counterbalance the tense and darker moments. Like many thrillers, this movie is at times wildly improbable -- but it's also a great deal of fun.
Owing less to its source material than to Steven Soderbergh's high-starpower, low-wattage 2001 remake of Ocean's Eleven, F. Gary Gray's slick, anonymous Italian Job retains little of the 1969 film's buoyancy, or irreverence -- which in many ways may actually be a good thing. Perhaps realizing that alpha-hipster Guy Ritchie had already strip-mined the Michael Caine classic in not one but two goofball caper films (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, both of which also happened to star Jason Statham), Gray chooses instead to update a few impressive chase scenes, lift a couple one-liners, and otherwise leave the classic untouched. Italy doesn't even make much of an appearance in this Italian Job: Save for an opening heist in the canals of Venice and a snow-capped betrayal in the Alps, the movie languishes in the Southern Californian sun, making good use of L.A.'s seamy pawn shops, nouveau-riche mansions, and permanent gridlock. Unlike the 2001 Ocean's, the humor here is, for the most part, forced and trite; but also unlike Soderbergh's film, there's a genuine sense of gravity to the proceedings, a sense that there's something important riding on ringleader Mark Wahlberg's only-in-the-movies revenge scheme. For his part, Wahlberg is functional but uninspired; best among the bunch are Charlize Theron and Mos Def, both making the most of the few zingers the script has to give them.
With its impeccable timing, steady kinetic drive and superbly choreographed chase sequences through the canals of Venice and the streets of Los Angeles, the movie, directed by F. Gary Gray, feels a like smooth, exciting whoosh down a ski slope. Stephen Holden
This is pure entertainment but smart entertainment, plotted and executed with invention and humor and acted by a winning cast radiating good-movie energy. Mick LaSalle
|Sound:||[Dolby Digital Surround, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround]|