The Italian Job
directed by F. Gary Gray
(Paramount, 2003)

John Bridger is an aging safecracker on parole with an eye for fine jewelry and a yen to pull one last job before he retires. Charlie Croker is his young (relatively speaking) and capable assistant. They're in Venice with a wheel man named Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), a whiny computer hacker named Lyle (Seth Green), an explosives expert known as Left Ear (Mos Def) and a nervous Nelly named Steve (Edward Horton) to pull an "Italian Job."

But these guys are no ordinary gang of thieves. They're not going to simply empty the safe; they're taking the safe with them, at least for the moment.

How this is going to happen is artfully sketched out for the viewer in a montage of scenes that opens The Italian Job, closeups of hands at work and a roving eye that cruises the canals of the city and country that help give F. Gary Gray's film its name.

And it comes off exactly as planned -- almost.

The high-tailing heist men run into a bit of trouble in the Alps, where Steve decides that his share of the $35 million take is $35 million. And he won't settle for less. Before he leaves, Bridger (Donald Sutherland) is dead, and what started as a heist film has become a heists film.

But wait -- as Ron Popeil likes to say -- there's still more.

Croker (Mark Wahlberg) isn't about to take this betrayal lying down. He decides he and the rest of the gang need to teach Steve a lesson -- by stealing the gold bullion back. Yes, the audience is about to get a third heist -- three for the price of one.

Sadly, however, that's about all the audience gets in The Italian Job, a remake, at least in principle, of the 1969 Michael Caine film of the same name.

Heist number one is lots of fun, with speedboats doing a French Connection down the canals of Venice, and heist number two is quick and to the point -- plus it helps put an end to a somewhat overdone dialogue sequence that tries to give the heist men some moral bearing. Please!

Unfortunately, heist number three, which takes place in L.A., is a long time in coming and involves a lot of what Gray and his writers, Donna Powers and Wayne Powers, do worst: exposition.

First, Croker decides the only person who can crack Steve's safe is Bridger's daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron), setting up a second revenge motif and possibly the sappiest ending in heist-film history.

Next, Croker decides to introduce Stella, who's a safe technician, to the crew with a series of badly acted voice-over flashbacks to the crewmen's early lives of crime, including a school hallway robbery and a toilet explosion. Double please!

As a result, things don't really get rolling again until the gang is ready to take back the take.

Then come the Mini Coopers for which The Italian Job is best known and the action sequences that help you forget -- or at least brush aside -- the faulty exposition and shallow action. (Is it my imagination, or is Wahlberg doing a bad imitation of Frank Sinatra in his worst films?)

So take The Italian Job for what it's worth: plenty of action, artfully shot, with lots of pans and zooms and camerawork as stylish as the city of Venice itself -- plus a bunch of scenes that should have ended up on the cutting-room floor.

Fortunately, there's great fun in watching Lyle hack into the L.A. traffic-signal computer and turn the town into a sea of traffic jams, and nothing compares to the sight of the Minis pulsing through the L.A. Metro. This may not be Theron's best acting, but if she doesn't have you singing "Baby You Can Drive My Car," then there's something wrong with the view from your couch.

Just have plenty of popcorn on hand for the dialogue scenes. And feel free to hit the stop button before the credits roll. If you haven't seen this ending before, consider yourself fortunate.

- Rambles
written by Miles O'Dometer
published 28 February 2004

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