After my recent disappointment with the original, 1969 version of The Italian Job, I figured I would give a try to the 2003 remake of The Italian Job. But I was wrong. It is not a remake. It just uses the title and the Mini Coopers and the traffic jam. The most remarkable thing about it is that the job is not in Italy. Oh sure, there is an “Italian job” at the very beginning of the film that goes bad, and the rest of the film involves a revenge plot stemming from it. But it takes place is exotic Los Angeles.
But okay, it’s a heist film. And Seth Green as the computer hacker actually does computer hacking, although the way he breaks passwords is all wrong, and not even as advanced as in War Games, made two decades earlier. But it still feels a lot more real than watching Benny Hill replace one computer tape with another. And the whole heist seems a whole lot more like something that would work. But that’s true of most modern heist films.
The only thing that really makes a heist film worth watching is that they usually star charismatic people. This is why Ocean’s Eleven worked so well, even though its heist was riddled with holes. The Italian Job is led by Mark Wahlberg, a man so uncharismatic that if Lawrence of Arabia were remade with him, people would mistake it for Koyaanisqatsi. Up next to him is the beautiful and talented Charlize Theron — also without discernible charisma beyond the cleavage she shows when wearing a cami that is two sizes too small.
In order to round out the crew, we have Mos Def as the fairly interesting munitions expert. Characters who are good at blowing things up are always interesting. And then we have to have Jason Statham, who plays Handsome Rob, who seems to be in the movie just because screenwriters are nerds and this is one of the few outlets they have for their sexual fantasies except for the stories they submit to Literotica. But I guess he does provide the same function for female viewers as Charlize Theron does for the males.
In some ways, the movie is less realistic than the original. At least in the original, three professional drivers were brought in to do the getaway. Here we’re supposed to think that when Theron’s character wasn’t studying everything anyone ever knew about cracking safes, she was learning to make Mini Coopers waltz. But okay, whatever. I like watching Charlize Theron driving around in a Mini Cooper as much as the next guy.
But what about those Mini Coopers? Why Mini Coopers? There was a very good reason for them in the original film. It was basically nationalistic. The British were giving the Italians a spanking. This was explicit. The English gangster (Noël Coward) was backing the job for the good of England and the Italian gangster (Raf Vallone) wants to stop the job for Italy. So the Mini Coopers were a symbol of British pride. What’s more, there were three cars, one each in red, white, and blue: the colors of the British flag. Well, we get the same thing in this new film but there is no reason for it. This is a film about a group of Americans sticking it to another American.
Speaking of that other American, I read this about Edward Norton’s role as the bad guy, “Norton took the role of Steve Frazelli, due to a contractual obligation he had to fulfill.” That makes me feel better about him because as I was watching the film, I was wondering why he took this role that is provided absolutely no motivation in what is a very mediocre script. The full extent of his character is when Wahlberg tells him, “Same old Steve, huh? Always thinking defensively. That’s why you’re always number two… You got no imagination.” Of course, he had enough imagination to rip off Wahlberg’s entire team at the beginning of the film. What he didn’t have was intelligence, because the entire plot depended upon him being stupid.
Don’t take this to mean it is a bad movie. It’s okay. But for $60 million, a lot more could be done. And in the end, the original film is more fun. This one takes itself very seriously in the same way that Mark Wahlberg takes himself very seriously. It is cookie-cutter filmmaking. And it includes its own indictment of the filmmakers, “You got no imagination.”