(director: F. Gary Gray; screenwriters: Donna Powers/Wayne Powers, based on a story by Troy Kennedy Martin; cinematographer: Wally Pfister; editors: Christopher Rouse/Richard Francis-Bruce; music: John Powell; cast: Mark Wahlberg (Charlie Croker), Charlize Theron (Stella Bridger), Edward Norton (Steve Frezelli), Seth Green (Lyle), Jason Statham (Handsome Rob), Mos Def (Left-Ear), Donald Sutherland (John Bridger), Franky G (Wrench); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Donald De Line; Paramount Pictures; 2003)

“It’s trash.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

F. Gary Gray’s The Italian Job is a revolting popcorn thriller that has no imagination or redeeming social value or logical explanation for its far-fetched story or poor sense of morality. In other words, it’s trash. It’s built around car chases, computer wizardry, and breaking into fool-proof safes. There isn’t much you haven’t seen in this pic that hasn’t been done before, and in most cases with more spirit and better acting and more credibility. The Heist and The Score seem like art classics when compared to this trite formula heist film.

It begins with a daring heist in Venice as a professional gang of six steal $35 million in gold bars from a safe in a mansion by detonating a ceiling. Some members pretend to escape with the safe on their boat, causing a speedboat chase through the canals. But in a ruse, the gold bars are stolen from the safe underwater by other members. The reunited crew meets at an Australian Alp pass, drink a Champagne toast to their exploits and head home greedily chortling at how they’ll spend their share of the dough on fancy houses, cars, and electronical equipment.

The burglars are led by smug and passionless Charlie, who planned this perfect caper. John Bridger is his older grey-haired mentor and father figure, who is a career safe-cracker criminal in on his last job before retirement (Where have I heard that one before?). He pontificates wise sayings about his craft as if he were a prophet and his craft was a worthy human endeavor. Lyle is some kind of nerdy computer whiz, who is comically angered that he gets no credit for being the real creator of Napster. Handsome Rob is the wheel-man and designated ladies’ man. Left-Ear is the demolition man, who because of a failed childhood explosion is deaf on the right side. Steve is the strong-arm and second-in-command, and sleaze of the group. He becomes a turncoat and robs the gold in an ambush with the help of other henchmen, and leaves his former gang for dead in the icy waters after spraying the area with a machine-gun. But only John is dead. When a year passes and the revenge-minded surviving gang members locate Steve living like Saddam Hussein in a posh Hollywood fortress, they bring in John’s hot safecracking daughter Stella to help steal the gold back. They rescue her from an honest job working as a security expert for the Philadelphia police, and I guess they save her from living in Philly again. These thieves are supposed to be cool and likable and very competent in their specialty, and the viewer is setup to root for them over the bad dude thief Steve. The often snarling Steve even lacks the good guy criminals’ imagination. Never mind that they’re all greedy pigs and don’t mind stealing and acting anti-social, Charlie and his boys are seemingly OK because they know the meaning of loyalty and never lie. The filmmaker makes no concessions for thinking, as anything sensible thrown into the script would ruin the overall amusement ride effect.

The climax builds to how the crew will get their revenge on the pathological criminal Steve, who hangs out watching TV on his big screen in his compound mansion that is guarded like Fort Knox. As part of the cute plan designed by the vacuous looking Charlie, Lyle uses his techie skills to manipulate the LA traffic lights and the gang gets a trio of customized Mini Coopers to move the stolen gold bars after robbing Steve of the gold by outfoxing him. They speed through the narrow confines of downtown traffic, as the film’s highlight scene is a chase with those small cars pursued by a helicopter through Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and later with the crew riding the cars through the Metro Rail tunnels.

It’s a loose remake of the 1969 superficial film that starred Michael Caine and Noel Coward. What it does successfully is keep the action scenes tight and the story superficial. The film delivers predictable thrills for an audience in a mood for a mindless joyride, with no questions asked.