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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 30, 2003

'The Italian Job' is among better caper remakes

By Jack Garner
Gannett News Service

THE ITALIAN JOB (PG-13) Three Stars (Good)

F. Gary Gray's efficient, high-octane caper film, loosely based on a 1969 original but with enough originality and action to zoom along on its own. Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron and Edward Norton co-star. Paramount, 111 minutes.

Every summer movie season deserves a good caper film — even if it's a remake. "The Italian Job" can take a bow.

F. Gary Gray's glossy, efficient thriller offers plenty of differences in plot, motivations and locations. It's easily enjoyed on its own merit, even for fans of the quirky 1969 original that starred Michael Caine.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Charlie, the somewhat stolid but dependable leader of a gang of high-end thieves. Much of the film's amusement comes from the diverse personalities of Charlie's well-defined accomplices.

Lyle (Seth Green) is the computer geek who brags that he actually invented Napster. He says it was stolen from him while he was napping at his keyboard. Thus, the name.

Left-Ear (Mos Def) is the munitions expert who lost hearing in one ear during a childhood prank when he tried to blow up a grade school bathroom stall.

Rob (Jason Statham) is the handsome auto specialist who can drive cars like crazy — and the ladies as well.

Steve (Edward Norton) is the wiring expert with a cold and ultimately traitorous heart.

And white-haired John (Donald Sutherland) is the knowledgeable veteran safecracker and Charlie's longtime mentor.

"The Italian Job" gets its name from the caper that opens the film — the clever robbery of gold bullion from a heavily guarded palazzo in Venice. And the intense prologue ends with a boat chase that makes considerable waves in Venice's fabled canals.

But out of town, as the participants toast their success, the evil Steve shoots John and pushes the rest of the gang off a bridge into a freezing lake. Steve wants all the gold for himself.

That act propels the film. Except for the beloved John, the gang survives and reunites in Los Angeles to get revenge. The target this time: Steve, of course.

To replace John, the gang turns to his capable daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron). She's an upright citizen who uses her safecracking skills on the legal side of the law. But she's willing to make an exception when she learns she can get revenge.

The spectacular, brilliantly conceived Los Angeles job forms the film's impressive centerpiece, triggering considerable action and suspense.

It's in the Los Angeles caper that "The Italian Job" borrows most specifically from the original film. In the 34-year-old film, the gang uses a giant traffic jam to facilitate a robbery in Turin, and they use three brightly colored Mini Coopers to escape.

Ditto in the new "Italian Job."

In what must surely be the most entertaining product tie-in of the season, the tiny cars zoom in and out of Los Angeles traffic, down sidewalk steps, and along the tunnels of Los Angeles' metro.

The spiffy little cars add a bit of wit — and impressive handling — to the film's high-octane chases.

"The Italian Job" is among the better caper films of recent vintage. Its smart wordplay, squealing-tire action and amusing characters offer an entertaining respite from the season's near-endless parade of Internet warriors and comic book heroes.

Rated PG-13, profanity, moderate violence.