Review: “The Italian Job”

After a strong start to the Summer with “X2”, “Nemo” and the problematic “Reloaded” comes this remake of an English thievery comedy into a big Hollywood popcorn actioneer and whilst not in the first two aforementioned films league, its still a devilishly fun piece of pure entertainment – think the first “Charlie’s Angels” but with a lot more to its script.

In recent years the US reinventions of quirky English comedies and thrillers such as “Get Carter” have never really translated well, indeed the 1969 original of this was more of a sly almost Pink Panther-esque style caper piece with heart and a light sense of playful fun.

Instead of trying to recreate it, they’ve taken key elements from the original but have entirely redone the story as a pure flash action movie with a cool cast, fast pace and a sense of style which is flashy but with a twist. Its like a no frills “Ocean’s Eleven” – more adrenalin, wider settings and a bigger focus on action with a lot less standing around and talking (although the marquee value and acting isn’t as strong).

Right from the start the film surprises you as we see Donald Sutherland and his crew doing a safe heist in Venice of $35 million in gold, but funnily enough the actual cracking happens in a rather unusual place (which could never be that crystal clear blue considering the location), whilst added to the mix is an impressive high speed boat chase down the canals – the first of several adrenalin-pumping sequences all superbly handled by Director F. Gary Gray.

Gray pulls off the difficult task of co-ordinating action sequences which run for a significant length of time (practically the whole last act of the film is one big car chase), utilising high profile locations such as Hollywood Blvd, and never letting the pace drop even during the quieter middle act.

Despite all the flashy and creative action on either end of the movie, its in fact the middle act which is the most impressive work as each of the characters get their backstories, albeit simple ones, explained and whilst some of the humour elements get old quickly (such as Seth Green’s way overused Napster joke), other things including a neat red herring and a tense character subplot keep things alive and never delve into too serious territory.

With such a streamlined style and reliance on concept, the characters here are more roles to be filled than actual performances as there’s little time to establish quirks. Mark Wahlberg sadly yet again is bland central in the lead role and in many ways it kind of works as because of this Gray never tries to force a tired romance subplot on us between him and the far more impressive Charlize Theron who even though she’s “dialling it in” is still one of the more impressive young female performers at work today.

This is certainly not a career highlight for Ed Norton, but he gives more depth to the character than it originally had by making it someone whose both internally insecure and at times externally quite dangerous. The ever smirking Jason Statham and the always fun Donald Sutherland do their trademark bad boy and veteran schemer style characters respectively, and the rest of the cast make decent impressions – most notably the buff Franky G as a mechanic who helps the guys out.

Production values are high with great use of locations, cool costumes and production design elements such as Norton’s expansive home, and at last a fast cut editing style which THANK GOD doesn’t try to be a Michael Bay clone with jittery all over the place camerawork. The music rocks – a healthy and toe-tapping mix of some modern classics of rock and pop. Whilst the performances aren’t that great, they don’t need to be as this is far more a plot-driven piece than a character study.

However that fact gives ‘Italian’ a less of a ‘rewatch’ factor than other recent heist flicks such as “Ocean’s Eleven” and more notably “The Score” which both had more depth and developed roles. The attempts at humour also for the most part fail but the chases are filled with enough of their own little smile-inducing gems to compensate.

Still, that’s not to hamper one of the season’s quiet but solid winners – after so much fantasy on the big screen its great to see an old fashioned action vehicle again and one which relies on elaborate stunts/sequences far more than tired gunfights or special effects. Simply just good heart-pumping fun.