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The Italian Job

Directed by F. Gary Gray. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron, Donald Sutherland, Mos Def, Seth Green, Jason Statham, Franky G. (2003, PG-13, 102 min.)

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 30, 2003

That whooshing sound you hear is the sales figures of the Cooper Mini puncturing the stratosphere. BMW’s pip-squeak sexbomb of an automobile should rightfully be listed before Wahlberg and Norton in the film’s credits since the upstart micros feature so prominently in the film, a remake of a 1969 caper vehicle starring Michael Caine and Noel Coward. So thoroughly British was the original that even recidivist skirt-chaser Benny Hill trundled on board for the ride, and if you don’t think the googly-eyed Hill scrunched inside a Mini sporting the Union Jack is the very height of cool Britannia yuks then you likely didn’t care for the Brit-pop explosion a few years back. Your loss, Yank. Gray, who also helmed Vin Diesel’s recent dead-soul-searcher A Man Apart, keeps the bare-bones of Troy Kennedy-Martin’s original script and then updates the storyline with a wealth of modern flourishes, including a clever running gag on Napster (featuring no less than the Napster himself, Shawn Fanning) and a winningly breezy plot that, while it doesn’t always hold up under close scrutiny, might as well be the new model of the modern caper film. The Italian Job is a zippy, energetic, automotive free-for-all, a caper extravaganza minus the bleak overtones that have come to figure in so many 9mm movies these days. If you’re looking for brooding shamuses and trenchant underworld observations served ice-cold over a still-warm corpse, you’re in the wrong theatre. If, instead, you’re up for watching lovely South African import Charlize Theron cackle with giddy delight as she tears hellbent for leather through a storm tunnel in her chopped and rocked Mini, then you could do far worse than this giggly lunatic ride. Theron is the closest thing Hollywood has today to a permanent tomboy actress; here she’s like the girl next door grown up into the grease-monkey down the corner who knows more about your ride than you ever will. She’s got torque to spare. She is also, as the bristly Stella in The Italian Job, a first-rate safe-cracker testing supposedly fail-safe strongboxes for their inherent weaknesses. She’s the daughter of famed professional thief John Bridger (Sutherland, back in Nicolas Roeg’s Venice where he belongs), who’s spent most of his child-rearing days in the pokey, resulting, not surprisingly, in some Electral friction between the two. Called out for one last big score by protégé Charlie Croker (Wahlberg) and his team – inside con Steve Frezelli (Norton), wheelman Handsome Rob (Statham), hacker Lyle (Green), and ordnance man Left Ear (Mos Def) – Bridger experiences the sort of career setback that fuels the best caper films, and the $30 million in gold bars this colorful gang has made off with is suddenly in doubt. Chase sequences ensue, some of which would do Mack Sennett proud, while Statham, in a swell nod to the original’s God-Save-the-Queen aspirations, puddles hooligan panache all over the floor and generally looks about ready to growl and lunge. No one here manages the pure Carnaby Street cool of young Michael Caine (Wahlberg appears again to be on autopilot), but Gray and his cast are having such fun that it’s hard to fault them for it, and the film rockets to its conclusion atop a trail of petrol fumes and criminal good will.

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