Sunday, July 13, 2003

***EXCLUSIVE*** Shallow Center Review: The Italian Job

Heist films have enjoyed a nice little resurgence. Or maybe they never really went away. Regardless, the last five years have seen some pretty decent movies about thieves -- from very good remakes of The Thomas Crown Affair and Ocean's 11 to solid pictures such as Heat and The Score to the so-so Heist.

The latest example The Italian Job, itself a remake. which Like so many of its genre, the film is bookended by elaborate robberies. In the first -- the crime from which the movie takes its name -- Mark Wahlberg, Donald Sutherland, Edward Norton, and assorted cronies boost a safe containing $35 million in gold bricks from an apartment in Venice. Norton double-crosses his partners in crime and hightails it to Hollywood, where his former buddies, joined now by Charlize Theron, pursue him in a plot to steal back the gold. Along the way there's a subplot involving sleazy Ukrainians that's not worth getting into.

The Italian Job wants so bad to be a nifty heist flick it's not funny. All the ingredients are here -- gadgets, a multiethnic crew, intricate capers -- but it still doesn't quite feel right. It's as if the filmmakers don't know how to play things. Thomas Crown and Ocean's 11 were breezy affairs, slick (but in a good way) and oozing style; Heat and The Score were more tense, traditionally dramatic works. All four were effective. The Italian Job tries to lift a little from both approaches, and the result is lack of direction that robs the movie of some of its punch.

Don't get me wrong -- the picture is a load of fun. The thefts are cool, though nothing to write home about, and there are several excellent uses of zipping MINI Coopers. In fact, those cars steal the movie. Wahlberg offers an easygoing charm, but fails again in his quest to carry a film. Norton is professional as always but underused here. And Theron, as stunning an actress as any working today, gives it a game try but can't pull off the grieving, vengeance-minded daughter. The rest of the cast is along for, essentially, a combination of comic relief and technobabble.

When summer blockbusters are trying like hell either to Say Something (The Matrix Reloaded, The Hulk) or outdo each other in the "Who thought anyone would watch this movie?" sweepstakes (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, anyone?), it's refreshing to see an unpretentious action film like The Italian Job do well. Still, with a little more focus, this could have been much more. Grade: B-


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