Early Review: The Italian Job (2003)

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Mini Cooper, Seth Green, Donald Sutherland

I recently saw an advanced screening of The Italian Job. Originally, I wasn’t going to review this film as I haven’t seen the original and thus felt insufficiently informed to judge its originality and ray-zon-detruh. But then I thought, “Hey, every film geek who reviews this movie is going to have seen the original, but almost nobody who watches it will, so my opinion is actually more valid.” So as a public service, I hereby present the only review of this movie worth reading.

I had heard of the original The Italian Job before, and I don’t think I am giving away any great secrets (in either version) when I say that the entire movie is supposedly a buildup to a chase scene in which the protagonists orchestrate a theft by strategically creating traffic jams and using Cooper Minis to navigate “alternate” escape routes and outwit their pursuers. With the recent introduction and success of BMW’s Mini Cooper, it was inevitable that this movie/marketing campaign would be remade. What was not inevitable was that the movie would be worth watching, which, fortunately for BMW, it is.

Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about this movie was that it had so many opportunities to disappoint, while taking advantage of just a few. It was as if the writers and director had a complete index of my movie pet peeves, and thought it would be really fun to tease me with them. You know how sometimes you go into a movie expecting it to suck, and then it doesn’t and then you really like it more than you should just because it doesn’t suck? Well, this happened to me like eight times in the same movie, so your mileage may vary. Of course, if you go in expecting to enjoy a movie that’s basically a BMW marketing campaign then you are less cynical than I, and you’ll probably enjoy it anyway.

There are some minor spoilers below, but the only significant one pertains to the first few minutes of the film.

The movie opens with an old movie cliché, as legendary safecracker John Bridger (Sutherland) returns for one last job. The job goes swimmingly, but in a double-cross he is robbed of both his gold bars and his life. Unbeknownst to his assailants, his protégé Charlie (Wahlberg) survives the attack in the only real “come on, that’s silly” moment of the movie.

Charlie recruits Bridger’s daughter Stella (Theron), a good-guy safecracker who works for insurance companies and never looks inside, to help steal back the gold and avenge her father in the exotic and conveniently traffic-congested city of Los Angeles. The other requisite crime-caper specialists on the team include techno-geek Lyle (Green) who, as the college roommate of the perfidious Shawn Fanning, invented Napster. Many movie plots rely on the Deus Ex Machina of super-ordinary technological exploits to perform the miraculous (“the invading spaceship is otherwise invincible, but this virus written in the universally destructive computer language of Applescript should bring down its defenses, bwahahahaha”). This movie walks that line, but Lyle’s geeky enthusiasm for his own accomplishments is fun to watch. The ultimate showdown is delightfully reminiscent of Oceans 11, despite the fact that using the word “delightfully” in a review makes me sound a bit sissy.

Many filmmakers create colorful and interesting supporting characters but are somewhat lacking in the development of the main protagonists, and that’s the case here. However, the bit players are thoroughly entertaining, and the formulaic-but-different plot unfolds like the newest roller coaster at Six-Flags. You kind of know what’s coming, but it’s still fun.
pochi.gifpochi.gifpochi.gifpochi.gif (out of a possible 5)

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