Should I Watch...? 'The Italian Job' (2003)
What's the big deal?
The Italian Job is an action heist movie released in 2003 and is a loose remake "inspired" by the 1969 film of the same name. The film stars Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Jason Statham, Mos Def and Seth Green and it was directed by F. Gary Gray. Like the original film, this movie concerns an elaborate gold heist and carefully orchestrated getaway but this time around, an additional motive of revenge is in place after a deadly double-cross. Despite worldwide takings of $176 million and a warm critical reception, a planned sequel known as The Brazilian Job has been stuck in development hell since 2004 and given the numerous changes at Paramount Studios (not to mention the runaway success of The Fast And The Furious franchise), it is unlikely to ever see the light of day.
What's it about?
Veteran thief John Bridger puts together a team to steal $35 million worth of gold bullion from gangsters based in Venice. Using his long-time partner Charlie Croker, wheelman Handsome Rob, inside man Steve Frazelli, hacker Napster and explosives expert Left Ear, the heist goes as planned and the team make their escape towards Austria. Unfortunately, they are waylaid en route by men loyal to Steve who takes the gold for himself and shoots John before the others escape by driving off a bridge into a lake.
Back in LA, the remains of the team are determined to recover their ill-gotten gains as a measure of revenge. Recruiting John's safe-cracking daughter Stella, they discover Steve has resurfaced using a new name and living a lavish lifestyle. But as their plans gather momentum, Steve discovers that his former running buddies are on to him. Can Charlie lead the team to success or will Steve have more surprises waiting in store for them?
Lyle (aka Napster)
F. Gary Gray
Donna & Wayne Powers *
Release Date (UK)
19th September, 2003
Action, Crime, Thriller
What's to like?
Obviously, the world is a very different place than it was when The Italian Job was first released at the tail-end of the Sixties. This big-budget American remake ejects a lot of the comedy found in the rather whimsical original and instead relies on action sequences that are far more impressive. Like the original, the three Mini Coopers are the real stars of the show as they blitz around LA like a pack of mischievous puppies thanks to some truly dazzling stunt-work reminiscent of The Bourne Identity. For BMW (who now produce the cars), this must have been the best commercial they could have wished for.
The film works hard to update the story, replacing Benny Hill's oddball professor with scenes of hacking and infiltration far more believable than before. And there is some comedy squeezed in as well - Green is the obvious expert in this area but the film has a slight tongue-in-cheek feel as well, as though it's taunting you for buying into the concept too much. As for the cast, Statham offers up his usual charismatic hard-man role while nobody else gets pushed that far. Although Wahlberg, Theron and Norton do OK in the leads, their roles are criminally underwritten and they don't come off as real people at any point in proceedings.
- Wahlberg, Theron and Statham were given a month's driver training at Willow Springs, California to help prepare for the role. Statham also admitted receiving additional tuition from former Formula One champion Damon Hill. He also said that Theron was by far the best driver.
- Norton's appearance only came about as a result of contractual obligations with Paramount. He loathed his time on set, frequently clashing with the crew and even returned a gift from producer Donald De Line with a note telling him to give it to someone who he liked or who actually liked him.
- During the end credits, we see Lyle with his girlfriend who is played by Kelly Brook. Brook and Statham were a couple at the time of shooting.
What's not to like?
However, I feel like I can't go on without introducing the elephant in the room. I know that The Italian Job isn't the first Hollywood remake to belittle us Brits but the original film was about more than watching Minis drive around Turin. It had fantastic one-liners and a cheeky sense of humour that was perfect for the film's light-hearted tone, a charismatic lead in the shape of Michael Caine in the form of his life, possibly the greatest cliffhanger of all time at the end of the film and deep down, it was a celebration of the underdog finally coming good against the fancied opposition - a theme possibly brought about by England winning the World Cup in 1966. This rehash sadly has none of these things. This version is all about a stylish heist in the same vein as the Ocean's Eleven reboot and selling cars. It is The Italian Job in name only - only the film's opening takes place in Italy!
This might be forgivable if the film was any good but away from the action and driving scenes, this is as forgettable as they come. Wahlberg and Norton have no discernible personality that I could detect and Theron, a much better actress than this illustrates, is relegated to the pretty eye-candy to be won by the hero at the end of the day. For all the hi-tech gadgetry and endlessly cool styling on show, this feels as old-fashioned as the original and it certainly doesn't offer anything new. It is every inch as ridiculous as the first film but instead of playing the material for laughs, it treats it with all the seriousness of a cancer diagnosis. At no point did I smile, laugh or sing along with the soundtrack - another aspect the original film did better.
Should I watch it?
The film does improve when it recreates the fantastic driving sequences that made the original a classic but The Italian Job is far from a worthy successor. Devoid of charm, humour and depth, it struggles to get going until the final explosive reel when viewers finally get some payoff. I'll tell you a story - when I bought the 1969 film on DVD years ago, it had this version thrown in for free although nowhere on the box informed me of this. If Paramount are trying to bury this film, it should tell you all you need to know right there.
Great For: owners of the new Mini Cooper, BMW shareholders, car salesmen
Not So Great For: fans of the original, British viewers, Edward Norton's career
What else should I watch?
Heist films can be tricky to pull off, especially if you don't remake a familiar film from the Sixties. Entrapment is a prime example, a confusing hi-tech thriller with an unlikely romantic pairing of Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Films that were received more positively include the aforementioned remake Ocean's Eleven but how about another remake, 1999's The Thomas Crown Affair, which was widely seen as being better than the 1968 original.
Of course, driving movies these days are completely overshadowed by the ever-growing phenomenon that is The Fast And The Furious. With the series currently on its eighth instalment The Fate Of The Furious (coincidentally also directed by F. Gary Gray) and with more in the pipeline, the nitrous-fuelled street-racing franchise isn't going away any time soon.
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© 2018 Benjamin Cox