The only real mark of a successful Heist Film is rather there are two ingenious robberies to savor. If there are, then all is forgiven. “The Italian Job”, a not-really-a-remake of the Michael Caine original of the same name, gives the audience one and a half ingenious robberies. It’s enough, mostly because one suspects that the film doesn’t have anymore to give, and that its one and a half is already a stretch. Actually, the screenplay by Donna and Wayne Powers shouldn’t have lasted almost two hours; ninety minutes of “The Italian Job” is more than enough, and everything else is pushing it.
Mark Wahlberg stars as Charlie Croker, the newly crowned head of a tight-knit group of thieves who, as the film opens, are pulling off the theft of $30-plus million dollars worth of gold bars from an Italian apartment. Of the group, there is Donald Sutherland as the retiring thief, who is passing the torch to Charlie; Handsome Rob (Jason Statham, “The Transporter”), the getaway man; Lyle (Seth Green), the electronics whiz (which means he spends most of his time tapping randomly on a computer); Left Ear (Mos Def), the explosives expert with an aversion to dogs; and finally, sleazebag Steve (Edward Norton), who quickly betrays the group, kills Sutherland, and escapes with the gold.
It takes a year before Charlie can re-locate Steve again. With an eye toward revenge, Charlie recruits Sutherland’s daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron), who is also a safecracker. Their plan is to steal back the gold that Steve stole from them. And as it often happens in Heist Films, we see the recruiting stage, the planning stage, the re-enactment stage, and finally, just before the actual heist occurs, a last-minute hitch arrives to hinder things. Which is why the only mark of a successful Heist Film is its ability to give the audience at least two ingenious robberies.
“The Italian Job” opens well, with the titular Italian job, but it spends the next hour and a half not doing very much. There is an insinuation of romance between Charlie and Stella, but thankfully the script never pushes it. There are some knowing glances between the two main characters, but that’s all. Actually, the film is very well balanced between all the different characters, and soon even Charlie starts drifting off into the background.
Which leads me to this thought: I am somewhat perplexed by the continued stardom of Mark Wahlberg (“Planet of the Apes”), who looks so out of place here. No personal offense is meant to Wahlberg, but he just doesn’t have the face for a master criminal. He has the look of a young tough who would rather beat you with a crowbar than come up with a plan to rob you. Any other actor would have done a better job, but since the film isn’t really a star vehicle for him, I guess it doesn’t really matter.
As the villain of the piece, the only thing noteworthy about Edward Norton’s performance is his peculiar mustache, which is really unseemly. Norton has always struggled to overcome his baby face, and if anyone can benefit from plastic surgery, it has to be this man. Norton is definitely talented, but there are only so many characters someone with that face can play. Although a scene where Norton is forced to kill a man clearly reminds people that he’s a talented individual.
“The Italian Job” is not especially entertaining, but it’s smart in that it saves its biggest moments for the final 30 minutes, as Charlie and company steal from Steve during a Los Angeles traffic jam. Audiences will forget that they had just sat through about an hour and a half of mostly nothing until the final heist. “Job” is mostly superfluous in that it doesn’t transcend the genre and there’s nothing particularly overwhelming about it. It’s saved by a frenzied final 30 minutes and some beautiful location work in the beginning. Also, a beautiful leading lady in Charlize Theron doesn’t hurt.
F. Gary Gray (director) / Donna Powers, Wayne Powers (screenplay)
CAST: Mark Wahlberg …. Charlie Croker
Charlize Theron …. Stella Bridger
Donald Sutherland …. John Bridger
Jason Statham …. Handsome Rob
Seth Green …. Lyle
Mos Def …. Left Ear
Edward Norton …. Steve