"The Italian Job" boasts speedboats that zip, dodge, and fly through Venice, Mini-Coopers doing underground gymnastics, and helicopters flying through parking lots. It sports one of the most all-star ensembles of the summer, including Edward Norton, Charleze Theron, Mark Whalberg and Donald Sutherland. So naturally, it doesn't live up to its ad campaign. I was surprised that what was going through my head for the bulk of the movie wasn't a sense of enjoyment. I instead found myself thinking: "what a drag!" Based on a 1969 Michael Caine film of the same name, this "Italian Job" falls just short of proving another of a film critics' easy-to-reach conclusions: for every foreign film that makes any kind of a splash, there's a crappy American remake.
The film begins with the title event: John Bridger (Donald Sutherland) is taking his band of thieves on one last heist before his retirement. With him are Charlie Croker (Mark Whalberg) and Steve (Edward Norton) the "everymen", Handsome Rob, who pilots the getaway (Jason Statham), Lyle the "techno-geek" (Seth Green) and Left Ear, the explosives expert (Mos Def). The job all goes according to plan, and the group gets out clean with a hefty sum in gold.
However, when leaving their hideaway in the mountains, Steve turns the tables: he wants the whole stash for himself, and is willing to (and does) kill for it. He murders John, and throws the rest of the crew into the ocean, assuming they die. But thanks to movie magic, they all survive. A year later, they all re-unite to begin planning the heist that will finally get back at Steve, but now with the help of John Bridger's daughter, Stella (Charleze Theron), who is now a master at cracking safes.
And let the games begin, right? Not really. "The Italian Job" turns out, somewhat surprisingly, to be much more boring and draggy than passable summer fun. Production values don't seem to be the problem, as (by the looks of this movie) the budget must've been maxed out. All the explosions, chases, and yada yada yada are all here, but everything here is filmed in a disenchanting gray tone that completely kills the mood. When it gets to the point that even the camera feels like it's about to nod off, all the loud noises in the world couldn't jolt me to be interested.
But that's not all, folks. "The Italian Job" lacks any sense of adventure, or even more importantly, levity. In other words, what keeps this from pumping up the adrenaline is the fact that everyone somehow thinks they're involved in high drama. The dialogue is straight-edged and clunky, and most of the lead actors do some of their most one-note, unengaging work right here. Even though this kind of a film doesn't require brilliant work for the ages, Whalberg, Theron and especially Norton can do better than this.
The good news is, this doesn't apply to the whole movie. The comic relief here really is a relief; Mos Def, Jason Statham, and Seth Green manage to lighten the atmosphere and provide the charisma and entertainment that the lead actors somehow miss. I wouldn't mind at all if the three leads were cut out of the picture and these three were given center stage.
Thankfully, this "Italian Job" slowly (but surely) manages to give itself some sort of welcome resuscitation in its second half. Tension manages to build, the stakes get higher, and the climax actually turns out to be a bit of a rush. The stunts stop being the recycled, theme-park spectacle junk of the first half and finally gets the crowd going. So in effect, seeing "The Italian Job" is almost like seeing two films for the price of one. I personally think the first half of the film wouldn't really even be worth a half-priced ticket (who knows, you'll probably disagree), but stay for round two and you'll get your money's worth.