- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2003

Mark Wahlberg is going to keep remaking ‘em until he gets it right.

The reformed rapper played a stock hero in Tim Burton’s “Planet of the Apes” misfire and committed a still greater blunder standing in for Cary Grant in the “Charade” remake “The Trouble with Harry.”

His latest remake, “The Italian Job,” is an improvement on several fronts.

The film reinvents a property not already a certified classic, and Mr. Wahlberg succeeds Michael Caine, who took on the original “Job” after Robert Redford passed in favor of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

Mr. Caine may have two Oscars, but the bespectacled Brit is not an icon on the order of Mr. Grant, who inevitably diminishes anyone who tries to fill his shoes.

“Job” finds Charlie Croker (Mr. Wahlberg) commiserating with his thieving mentor, played by the august Donald Sutherland, along the streets of Venice.

The two are chewing over details of a gold heist, aiming to pluck $35 million in bricks from a well-guarded palazzo.

Mr. Sutherland brims with Nestorean wisdom, imploring the youthful Charlie to savor his scores.

“Don’t spend it; invest it” Mr. Sutherland says, as if they were talking of savings bonds

We’re soon treated to the heist in question, a brilliantly opaque maneuver set up by painted-on explosives and laser-guided imagery. Director F. Gary Gray clearly relishes how clean technology renders such dirty business.

The heist goes off without a hitch — until a traitor emerges among them.

Edward Norton, saddled with a cheesy mustache and a hair-thin part, swipes the swiped loot and vanishes to Los Angeles, sending the film, alas, to more conventional locales.

Charlize Theron, an icy blonde Hitchcock might have cast in a dozen thrillers, co-stars as Stella, Mr. Sutherland’s daughter. Stella must have learned a thing or two from papa, because she can conveniently crack any safe set before her.

Flash forward a year, and Charlie and the gang have designs on stealing back “their” gold, with Stella’s help.

The plot for “Job” seems laser-locked on its revenge-fueled conclusion until the workmanlike script yanks the rug out from under us and sends the story in a new, richer direction.

The original film, which also featured bawdy British comic Benny Hill, delivered a computer-aided traffic jam amongst its set pieces. This new “Job” lifts the massive gridlock scene and the use of the stylish Mini Cooper cars but otherwise is a thoroughly modern movie, from the bland leading man to the tech-heavy heists. It sports its own peculiar charms, including a spunky turn by Seth Green (the “Austin Powers” series) and several car chases that stand on their own as viscerally persuasive.

“Job” frames its rob squad as a genial group who don’t pack heat and simply want to make one last heist before settling down. Mr. Wahlberg’s posse displays a greater degree of charm and pluck than he. Hip-hopper Mos Def lends depth to the one-note role of a partly deaf explosives guru, and Jason Statham plays to his rugged strengths as the curiously named Handsome Rob.

“The Italian Job” benefits from its brief international setting, but more importantly, it fields a solid team of supporting players to assist Mr. Wahlberg’s thieving intentions.

It’s they who pry the film away from the star’s sticky fingers.

**1/2

TITLE: “The Italian Job”

RATING: PG-13 (Extreme vehicular violence, deadly gunplay and a smattering of coarse language)

CREDITS: Directed by F. Gary Gray. Written by Donna and Wayne Powers. Production design by Charles Wood.

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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