Its not about the money. Its about the money.
F. Gary Gray
Running Time: 111 minutes
US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12A
Country: United States
Peter Collinson's 1969 film 'The Italian Job' is an English classic of its time, occupying a special place in the affections precisely because it is so many things all at once – a great crime caper, just the right balance of fast action and cheeky comedy, a showcase of British actors, the swansong of the swinging sixties, an unforgettable chase in Mini Coopers through a Turin traffic jam, Michael Caine's finest hour, and an ending which captures perfectly the peculiarly English refusal to give up when faced with one's own incompetence.
F. Gary Gray's new 'The Italian Job' is none of these things, but it is after all an American film made in very different times, and for an entirely different audience. Like the model of Mini which features so prominently in it, 'The Italian Job' (2003) is very much a reimagining of the original, rather than a simple remake. There is still a slick heist operation in Italy, only this time it takes place right at the film's beginning, and in Venice. After a successful raid and getaway, the crew is double-crossed by partner Steve (Edward Norton) who murders their safe-cracker John Bridger (Donald Sutherland, who after 'Don't Look Now' gets to die once again in Venice). From here on in, 'The Italian Job' becomes a bog standard Hollywood revenge flick, moving its action home to L.A. where Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) and his team try to steal their gold back from Steve, assisted by John's daughter Stella (Charlize Theron) and a fleet of modified Minis.
It would be hubris to attempt to reproduce Michael Caine's magnetic performance as Charlie Croker in the first film, so instead of trying to imitate or parody Caine, Wahlberg plays the part of Charlie all blank and inoffensive, much as he did in his reprise of Charlton Heston's rôle in Tim Burton's similarly reimagined 'The Planet of the Apes'. The film still has a reverential eye on Caine, though, as is shown in one scene where Charlie is viewed spying on Steve who is himself watching an image of Michael Caine on his huge TV – and while this is mostly an all-American affair, the cockney spirit of the original lives on in the character of getaway driver Handsome Rob, played by Jason Statham ('Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels').
There is really nothing wrong in principle with revising the original 'The Italian Job' – after all, the Mini Cooper is not a British concern any more, the age of technology has arrived, and there is no longer any place in the world for characters like Benny Hill's jolly paedophile from the first film. F. Gary Gray's 'The Italian Job' represents an efficient, business-like attempt to steal the film from the sixties and transport it rapidly into the noughties. Unfortunately, however, with its soulless script and by-the-dots plotting, it has jettisoned one thing from the original which really should not change with time – its charm.
It's Got: A crew of oddballs, each with their own comic backstory which never really proves relevant to the main plot.
It Needs: Tighter scripting, and higher stakes in the L.A. heist (its one thing to rip off the mob, but quite another to rob a single, weasely man).
Alternatives:The Italian Job (1969), The Thomas Crown Affair
A workmanlike heist flick with some funny lines and some good (if brief) chases, but it is ultimately hampered by comparing itself to the original, better 'The Italian Job'. Probably the best way to enjoy this film is to ignore its title, and to think of it as an entirely different film with occasional sequences that merely pay homage to Michael Caine's cockney masterpiece.