starring Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green
screenplay by Donna Powers & Wayne Powers, based on the screenplay by Troy Kennedy-Martin
directed by F. Gary Gray
by Walter Chaw The Italian Job may be the very definition of a perfunctory remake. There's no arguing with its professionalism and, at times, it threatens to hear the music, but when its best moments are those in which Donald Sutherland--in Venice again after 1973's Don't Look Now--summons up the horrific ghosts of Nicolas Roeg films past, the picture reveals itself to be inspired only by movies that were first, and better. In that spirit, among the recent crop of heist films, The Italian Job is better than Frank Oz's The Score and David Mamet's Heist, but not nearly so good as James Foley's Confidence. It finds itself at the mercy of the rhythms and images of pictures it seeks to ape, drumming out in the end an often flat, frequently limp product that seems to know, to its credit, the difference between "style" and "seizure." But with a cast that is either predictably flat (Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham) or convinced they're too good for the movie (Ed Norton; only Seth Green seems like he's having genuine fun), The Italian Job is just a prettified reflection glancing off the surface of a deep well.
When career thief Charlie Croker (Wahlberg) and his mentor John (Sutherland) are double-crossed by weasel Steve Frezelli (weasel Norton), Charlie and his band of merry men (Green, Statham, Mos Def--playing a guy who's deaf in one ear, as it happens (oh the hilarity)) recruit John's comely safe-cracking daughter Stella (Theron) to seek a little Byzantine revenge. The plans are agreeably complicated and the action sequences busy (if not actually exciting), but the film becomes a tease for the concluding mini-Cooper chase, which, if you've seen the original Michael Caine The Italian Job, is in the rarefied air of one of the best car chases in movie history. It's anti-climax in the redux, I fear, as is the entire third act of a film that already suffered a little from a lack of inspiration--the delirious insouciant peril of the original is substituted for the peculiar clockwork of most modern actioners.
That The Italian Job '03 is lacklustre is no surprise: a lack of heart is the malady of modern action cinema in general and unnecessary remakes in particular. The urge to resurrect (in Frankenstein fashion) the exquisite corpses of our cinematic culture comes with the commerce-inspired instinct to reconstruct in the simulacrum of its predecessors. Despite the resounding failure of Gus Van Sant's Psycho, it at least had the whiff of an understanding of itself as shade and the filmmaker as ghoul. The disquiet of Sutherland's otherwise sunny cameo in The Italian Job speaks to the ways in which the film, almost certainly unintentionally, comments upon itself as the rough imitation of life: looking good, but undead all the same. Originally published: May 30, 2003.