THE ITALIAN JOB has its share of action, but strictly speaking, this re-telling of the 60s flick of the same name, is a frothy caper story. The framework is the intricate plotting of not one, but two heists, with the real focus on the motley crew involved in pulling it off.
It begins in the middle of things, as our intrepid band of six thieves, led by stalwart Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) and his mentor in crime John Bridger (Donald Sutherland) are appropriating a safe full of gold from a Venetian palazzo. Whose gold it is and why its in a palazzo, not a bank vault, well, thats not important. What counts is that with some elaborate planning, split-second timing, and a tidy bait-and-switch they succeed in getting that safe without firing a shot. It also sets up the script, which will involve those three things, the bait-and-switch part sprung on the audience as often as on the characters on screen, which keeps things lively.
As I said, our guys get away, but unfortunately, one of them (Ed Norton at his weaseliest) is a little greedier than the rest and before you can say double-cross, Johns dead, the others are broke, and our simple caper film has added revenge to the proceedings and a move to Los Angeles. It has also added Stella (Charlize Theron) to the gang as Johns daughter, a plucky safe and vault consultant who cracks safes for the good guys and drives her Mini Cooper with extreme prejudice. With her pluck and her penchant for practicing her safe-cracking skills while wearing only her black lace bra, can there be any doubt that eventually sparks will fly between her and Charlie?
Screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Donna Powers, and Wayne Powers have created a script that doesnt feel as though it were written by a committee adnd done a fine job of creating an oddball assortment of characters for Charlies gang. Hes given them the gift of banter as well as funky little back stories that flesh out their personalities, making them more than, say, the run-of-the-mill half-deaf demolitions guy (Mos Def), the sexy wheel guy (Jason Statham in a disarmingly comedic turn), or computer geek guy (Seth Green). Green all but steals the movie as the hopeless nerd whose reach for hipness greatly exceeds his innate grasp of cool, as evidenced by his constant griping about how his college roommate stole the idea for Napster from him. Not to mention that wiretap he has going on his ex-girlfriend.
As for the revenge caper, its best not to think too hard about the logic of whats going on. It all hangs together well enough for the running time of the film, even the murderous Ukrainians and the Samoans with weight and putting issues. The chase sequences dont break any new ground, but the variety of vehicles in motion is interesting. Gondolas, speedboats, helicopters, motorcycles, Mini-Coopers, subway trains, you name it, if it moves, it chases something. There is also something deeply satisfying about the way Lyle manipulates L.A. traffic so that his gang always hits green lights even as the other vehicles on the road hit each other. There is power and there is >power< and being the traffic god in Southern California is a role devoutly to be envied.
F. Gary Gray directs with a light and puckish touch. Check out the clip that references the first version of THE ITALIAN JOB playing on Nortons big screen television as hes being staked out by Charlie and company. Yet Gray doesnt undermine the sweet sentimentality exhibited by the good guys. When they claim its not the money, its the principle of evening the score for John, theres nothing camp about it. And, yes, good is a relative term here among the thieves with and without honor, but the point is to have fun with a diverting tale and to send everyone home happy, the which Gray does.