30, 2003 | The arrival of The Italian Job confirms a suspicion
raised by such recent releases as Willard, The In-Laws and
Sweet November. Apparently, Hollywood moviemakers have run out
of great movies to remake, so they're going after second-tier efforts
to recycle. Which, when you think about it, may not be such a bad thing.
be sure, it's rarely a good idea to take a second crack at a classic.
(Just ask the folks who tried to make lightning strike twice with updates
of King Kong, Psycho, Planet of the Apes, etc.) But remaking
a less-than-perfect original? Well, why not? After all, two other directors
made hashes of The Maltese Falcon before John Huston filmed his
definitive version of Dashiell Hammett's novel in 1941.
even though the 1969 edition of The Italian Job has its many
admirers - especially in Great Britain, where it commands an inexplicably
devout cult following - it's really nothing more than a lightweight
caper comedy with a modestly clever premise, a few scraps of amusing
dialogue, a first-rate cast (including Michael Caine, Noel Coward and
Benny Hill) and a dandy ending that is, quite literally, a cliff-hanger.
The new version, directed by F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator) from
a script by Donna and Wayne Powers, is much better - fewer laughs, maybe,
but much more excitement - in almost every conceivable way.
in '69, the seriocomic fun was spun from the not-entirely-masterful
planning of Charlie Croker (Caine), an ambitious ex-con who stages a
massive traffic jam on the streets of Turin, then uses three tiny Mini
Cooper cars to evade pursuers while fleeing with a stolen gold shipment.
The makers of the remake jettison just about everything but the gold,
the traffic jam and the Mini Coopers, and use those remaining elements
to connect the dots in a slightly more serious and appreciably more
2003 version of Charlie Croker - now an American, played by Mark Wahlberg
- is a novice mastermind who's introduced while collaborating with his
former mentor (Donald Sutherland) on the latter's final caper. Together,
the partners in crime lead their hand-picked cohorts - a nervy break-in
artist (Edward Norton), a computer whiz (Seth Green), an explosives
expert (rapper-actor Mos Def) and a hunky getaway driver (Jason Statham)
- in a bold gold robbery that involves meticulously timed explosions,
underwater safecracking and a high-speed chase through the canals of
there's no honor among these thieves. After the heist, the break-in
artist steals the stolen gold, leaving his ex-partners for dead. Like
most movie bad guys, however, he flees the scene of the crime before
determining an accurate body count. Charlie, who is very much alive,
leads other surviving members of the crew in a mission of revenge. And
he gets some valuable assistance from his mentor's normally law-abiding
daughter: Stella Bridger (Charlize Theron), a gorgeous security consultant
who obviously learned a few safecracking tips from dear old dad.
slick and tricky, the new and improved Italian Job is a state-of-the-art
caper flick that bounds from one scene to the next with a relentless
pace and clockwork precision. The script provides just enough comic
relief to keep things seriously interesting, and the well-cast actors
inhabit their roles with flair and conviction. The Mini Coopers - which
appear on screen so often, and so prominently, it's tempting to view
some sequences as commercial breaks - turn out to be very handy vehicles,
though not quite for the reasons that Charlie and company originally
intend. That's just one of the pleasant surprises that the movie has
up its stylish sleeve.