A helicopter shot picks up six men standing on a snowy mountaintop, presumably in the Alps, celebrating the perfect heist of $35 million in gold ingots that provides the jaw-dropping opening of the breezy caper movie "The Italian Job." Each member of mastermind Mark Wahlberg's gang muses about what he's going to do with his share of the loot except for daring "inside" man Edward Norton, and that's because he's about to snatch all the loot for himself.
Even though the 1969 original "Italian Job" had Michael Caine in the title role, carrying out the plans of imprisoned criminal mastermind Noel Coward (a role eliminated in the remake), this new version has it all over the original. Writers Donna Powers and Wayne Powers imaginatively rework Troy Kennedy Martin's screenplay for the original film to create a fast and furious action-adventure. The film's comedy counts for as much as the clever and risky ways in which Wahlberg and company go after the nasty Norton, who has holed up in a Bel-Air mansion with a world-class security system.
The film's big plus is that its director, F. Gary Gray, takes a relaxed, light touch with the proceedings while keeping it all moving briskly. The filmmakers allow the gang members to emerge as very likable, distinctive personalities, easy to root for as they make their moves against Norton's Steve, who comes across like a Sean Penn-type bad guy at his surliest.
Wahlberg's low-key but very smart Charlie Croker has a colorful support team: a scene-stealing Seth Green as comical computer whiz Lyle; Jason Statham as Handsome Rob, a muscular Brit for whom all women are but putty in his hands; and explosives expert Left Ear (Mos Def), who dreams of owning an Italian palazzo with walls lined with first editions and closets filled with fancy footwear. In the revenge gambit, Charlize Theron's Stella, a Philadelphia safecracking expert working on the right side of the law, takes over for her father, a warm and avuncular Donald Sutherland, Charlie's key advisor.
The filmmakers have taken some key motifs from the original film's ingenious heist and chase and expanded upon them greatly and cleverly, with the film's big pursuit sequence, moved from Turin to a gridlocked Los Angeles, involving souped-up BMW Minis. This chase, as ingenious as it is, is arguably stretched out a little too long, but even so "The Italian Job" is clearly one of the summer's smarter, more sophisticated big-scale entertainments.
'The Italian Job'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence and some language
Times guidelines: Violence and language standard for the genre
Mark Wahlberg...Charlie Croker
Charlize Theron...Stella Bridger
Donald Sutherland...John Bridger
A Paramount Pictures presentation of a De Line Pictures production. Director F. Gary Gray. Producer Donald De Line. Executive producers James R. Dyer, Wendy Japhet, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner. Screenplay by Donna Powers & Wayne Powers; based on the film written by Troy Kennedy Martin. Cinematographer Wally Pfister. Editor Richard Francis-Bruce. Music John Powell. Costumes Mark Bridges. Production designer Charles Wood. Art directors Doug Meerdink, Mark Zuelzke. Set decorator Denise Pizzini. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
In general release.