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With: Mark Wahlberg, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron, Seth Green, Jason Statham, Mos Def, Donald Sutherland
Written by: Donna Powers, Wayne Powers
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and some language
Running Time: 106
Date: 05/30/2003

The Italian Job (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Right on the Money

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Crisp, uncluttered and wildly playful, the new film The Italian Job -- a remake of the 1969 film -- sweeps along like Buster Keaton's The General. Both films come in two parts. The bad guys steal something in the first part, and the good guys steal it back in the second part. That's it. Simple and beautiful.

OK. Maybe it's a bit more complicated than that. The "good guys" are actually a group of gold thieves, led by veteran John Bridger (Donald Sutherland -- the only cast member alive when the original came out). Just before his "one last big job," Bridger phones his beloved daughter Stella (Charlize Theron) from Venice to tell her that he loves her.

John's crew includes Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg), Steve Frezelli (Edward Norton), Lyle, a.k.a. "Napster" (Seth Green), Handsome Rob (Jason Statham) and Left Ear (Mos Def).

We barely meet them all before their new job has begun -- liberating a safe full of gold bars from a highly guarded room several stories up in a building just off the Venice canal.

It's no secret -- the awful trailer gives it away -- that they pull off the robbery and that Frezelli double-crosses the rest of the team, making off with all the gold and killing Bridger in cold blood. The rest of the crew spends a year catching up with him and launching a new heist to get revenge steal the gold back. This time Stella, a professional safecracker who works for the cops, helps.

Director F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator) and screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Die Another Day) and Donna and Wayne Powers (Deep Blue Sea) let us in on certain details, but keep other details from us until they actually happen. This way, we're kept just on the edge of comprehension and suspense. We think we know what's going on, but by the time we find out that we're wrong, we've been introduced to a whole new bag of tricks.

Indeed, a good deal of The Italian Job is based on the process of pulling off a complex robbery.

Showing process is one of the things that movies do best and one of the first things to get cut, presumably because it's "boring." This time, we're treated to the crew planning, working out details, and re-inventing on the spot when real life interferes.

But don't worry. For those with short attention spans, The Italian Job still delivers its share of chase scenes and spiffy stunts.

And Gray knows how to handle them without the usual jittery cameras and faster-than-the-eye-can-blink cutting.

In fact, Gray keeps the pace so swift and trim throughout that we might not even notice the intensely interior Wahlberg failing to connect with his fellow actors, or little plot details like the fact that Frezelli uses more men to pull off the double-cross than it took to pull off the robbery -- wouldn't that lessen his share of the gold?

The Italian Job isn't rocket science, but it does everything right. It's the opposite of a bloated, explosion-heavy, plot-thin gizmo like XXX or The Fast and the Furious.

It assumes that we're a thinking, breathing audience and not just popcorn-munching machines. Because of this, it's almost certain to bomb at the box office, but those who do see it will treasure its rare intelligence.

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