THE ITALIAN JOB

PG-13

-By Daniel Eagan


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A remake of a 1969 film, The Italian Job is a stylish but bland thriller with the feel of a grimly efficient machine for delivering product placements. The low-wattage cast and absence of real thrills give this a better shot on television and video than theatres.

Charlie (Mark Wahlberg) runs a world-class gang of crooks, including safecracker John Bridger (Donald Sutherland), inside man Steve (Edward Norton), explosives expert Left Ear (Mos Def), wheelman Rob (Jason Statham), and computer geek Lyle (Seth Green). After stealing $35 million in gold bullion in Venice, Charlie and his pals are double-crossed and left for dead at the Austrian border.

One year later, Charlie and his three surviving pals track the gold to Los Angeles. First they stop in Philadelphia to convince Bridger's daughter Stella (Charlize Theron) to help them (and to introduce her Mini Cooper, a car that gets more screen time than a lot of the cast). An expert locksmith who freelances for the police, Stella is reluctant to turn criminal. But when she learns that Charlie's target is Steve, she agrees to help avenge her father.

The crooks are stymied at first by the elaborate security surrounding Steve's estate. But the real problem won't be breaking into his safe. What the gang has to do is find a way to get the bullion out of the city. Lyle taps into the computer system controlling traffic lights for the city of Los Angeles, giving Charlie the idea to generate and manipulate a massive traffic jam as a cover for the heist. But some last-minute twists put his plan in jeopardy.

Until its climax, The Italian Job largely eschews the gunplay and physical violence that have become staples of the genre. Unfortunately, screenwriters Donna Powers and Wayne Powers offer nothing in their place. The characters are worn-out stereotypes with little to do. Wahlberg continues his string of blankly non-expressive performances, while Statham and Mos Def are seriously underused. With Green playing another horny nerd who saves the day by typing, and Theron limited to window dressing, that leaves Edward Norton to snarl and rage impotently like the bad guy in a cheap blaxploitation flick. For all their reputations as experts, nobody displays any real skills except the ability to model expensive clothes.

With helicopters attacking cars and trucks crashing through undermined roadways, the ending manages to stir up some excitement. But by then viewers will have had too much time to punch holes into the flimsy plot. In fact, the script for The Italian Job turns out to be a bigger crime than any heist in the film.

--Daniel Eagan


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