Tuesday 17 January 2012

Movie Review: The Italian Job (2003)

A revenge heist movie, The Italian Job tries hard but cannot elevate itself from the realm of the average. The best and most original scenes feature Mini Coopers racing around demonstrating their agility, and the solid cast maintains interest, but otherwise the movie feels like a second visit to well-worn tourist traps.

Master thief Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) and his mentor John Bridger (Donald Sutherland), an expert safe cracker, lead a gang that includes Steve (Edward Norton) and Rob (Jason Statham) in the daring capture of a safe full of gold in Venice. But just when they think that they are set for life, Steve betrays the rest of the gang, killing John and leaving the others for a dead. But they survive and recruit John's daughter Stella (Charlize Theron), a professional safe security expert, for a revenge mission: to steal the gold back from Steve's mansion in Los Angeles. By creating traffic jams and using nimble Mini Coopers to navigate around the gridlocked city, Charlie and his buddies hope to recover the gold, avenge John's death, and escape to a better life.

Only vaguely inspired by the 1969 Michael Caine film, the 2003 version of The Italian Job can be sarcastically labelled a two-hour commercial for the Mini Cooper, and the little car does offer the best entertainment on show, zipping through traffic, diving into impossibly tight parking spots, climbing and descending stairs, and racing through sewers and pipes. To the benefit of the movie, director F. Gary Gray mercifully minimizes computer-generated gimmickry, allowing the stunts to be contained within the bounds of realism.

As for the humans, Donald Sutherland is as usual the most watchable member of the cast, but delivers his increasingly customary sage-man-killed-early routine that has become something of a trademark late in his career. Mark Wahlberg appears too likable and smart to be involved in a life of crime, while Charlize Theron fights the good fight but fails to convince that a professional security expert can suddenly join a criminal gang in a dangerous mission to avenge a father who generally neglected her.

It is left to Edward Norton as the double-crossing Steve and Jason Statham as ace driver Handsome Rob to add some much needed menace to the otherwise too-cheerful band of robbers, Norton memorable as a greedy but insecure villain, while Statham can actually be imagined as a ruthless thief in real life.

Despite some interesting locations and dynamic cinematography, The Italian Job is mostly pleasant, a curious criticism, but the lack of any kind of an edge or genuine tension simply defangs the movie, much like automatic transmission sucks the life out of a Mini Cooper.

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