Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Edward Norton
here is a lot of hand wringing about remaking older films, but if this is evidence of a dearth of creative ideas in the American film industry (and it is), it can get in line. Most summers, original scripts are in short supply in Hollywood, but somehow making remakes of older—even only marginally popular—films grants one a much lower circle of hell than borrowing from other source material like, say, comic books or children’s television shows.
Summer is always sequel season and this year is already almost completely franchise-driven. From X2, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Matrix Reloaded, Dumb and Dumberer, Rugrats Go Wild, Bad Boys II, Legally Blonde 2, T3, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle there is no shortage of recycled cinematic brands. Comic book heroes the Hulk and Daredevil are designed to be the first volleys in similar franchises and teen TV sensation Lizzie McGuire went to the big screen before Hilary Duff went out Disney’s door. So I’m prepared to begrudge a remake of The Italian Job—particularly because it offers its share of smart, fairly effortless pleasures.
The real stars of the film.
The original is a 1969 heist film about stealing gold from Turin, and is best remembered for its Mini Cooper car chases. The remake is a heist about reclaiming stolen gold from a turncoat that helped heist it in Venice, and may be best remembered for its Mini Cooper car chases. Like the original, this summer’s version also features a cast of slick, likeable characters. What it adds is a Venice canal boat chases and up-to-the-minute gadgetry.
On paper, that sounds like no sale. And on paper, it gets worse. There are also a number of clichés on board here. There is a wise, paternal old crook (Donald Sutherland) out for one last job—which of course means he dies, He has a daughter (Charlize Theron) who is an expert in locks and safes and works on the right side of the law. The crooks also have to face a constant threat from the suddenly ever-present Ukrainian mob.
Mark Wahlberg being told how much he is making.
But despite it all, this is a genre film and there are genre films because they often deal in likeable stories and characters. This is no different. Leads Mark Wahlberg and Edward Norton make for a compelling cat and mouse team—and, with all of the second-guessing and scheming, those roles are blurred at best. In his action roles, Wahlberg excels when he is underrated as a hero and an actor, and that’s not different here as he plays another well-meaning type punching about his weight with surprising amounts of subtlety and intellect. Norton seems on the surface like he’s phoning it in—he almost looks bored most of the time. Purposefully done or not, it adds to his character, highlighting the ease at which he steals, and his lack of moral center as he heists his fellow crooks and builds a monument to their dreams complete with guards and walls designed to keep them out.
Naturally, each lesser crook is known only by his specialty and a single personality trait, but in the heist game, it’s likely all-business anyhow. Plus, the supporting cast (Jason Strathan, Seth Green, Mos Def) is effortless and enjoyable. Even Theron gets to do more punching than kissing, thankfully exerting the film of leaden, forced romantic scenes.
So, sure it’s a genre film. Yes, it seems at times like a Mini Cooper ad. But yes, somehow it adds up to a bit of fun—or at least a diverting respite for those without air conditioning.
By: Scott Plagenhoef
Published on: 2003-09-01