The Italian Job

| June 3, 2003

If you’ve had enough of high-tech special effects in films like The Matrix Reloaded and X2, why not try The Italian Job–an action flick with an old-fashioned, leaves-your-palms-sweaty car chase? Trust me, you’ll never look at traffic jams in the same way again.
Based loosely on the 1969 film The Italian Job by Troy Kennedy-Martin, but rewritten by Donna Powers and Wayne Powers II, the plot is a simple one: revenge.
Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) and his gang of affable crooks have just pulled off a 37-million dollar gold heist in Venice. But there’s a Judas among them. Steve Frezelli (Edward Norton) holds up the group, leaves them for dead in the Austrian mountains, and takes off with the loot.
Fast forward a year. Charlie and his cronies locate Steve living large in southern California. They plan to teach him a lesson.
“It’s not about the gold,” Croker assures the beautiful Stella Bridger (Charlize Theron), who cracks safes for the police. Bridger has a personal vendetta against Steve, and Crocker uses this to his advantage when recruiting her. Of course, she says yes.
Now enter the “other” star: the MINI Cooper–the charming, diminutive, lightning-fast German car that fits through tight spaces including subways, walkways, and stairways. You know, typical places you might need to venture when caught in an LA traffic jam while pursuing an armored truck.
The Mini Cooper S (spelled in lowercase when referring to models from 2000 or older according to The Italian Job website) was the star of the original film as well.
Wahlberg, Theron, Jason Statham (Handsome Rob), and Mos Def (Left Ear) had weeks of intensive driver’s training; the filmmakers wanted authentic car scenes–very few stunt doubles were used. Who says being a Hollywood star isn’t hard work?
Of course, what would a good action flick be without a couple of plot twists, foiled plans, and an underlying love story? This is where the film turns predictable, but not any less enjoyable thanks to a cast that clicks, witty writing and THE car chase of the year.
Edward Norton plays a beautiful bad guy, a talent that he is constantly reinventing. From the “victim” in Primal Fear (his feature film debut that earned him an Academy Award® nomination), to the back-stabbing partner in The Score, to the drug dealer enjoying his last moments of freedom in Spike Lee’s 25th Hour, Norton’s body of work speaks for itself.
Boston native and former hip-hop artist Mark Wahlberg shows why he is leading man material. His laid-back performance of Charlie Crocker is on target. After all, this is a thief with a heart. He doesn’t use guns, thinks through every detail, and is ultra-creative. I’ve been a fan since Boogie Nights, and enjoyed him in Three Kings and The Perfect Storm.
The cast is an athletic one. Theron is a former ballerina (her career of choice before an injury) and Statham (Snatch) was a diver for Great Britain at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. The two are more than a couple of pretty faces, although their characters are a bit one-dimensional. Handsome Rob may be my new choice in Hollywood Heartthrobs.
Seth Green (as Lyle), Mos Def (as Left Ear), and veteran Donald Sutherland (as John Bridger) round out this talented cast. Green plays the computer genius hacker who has his way with the LA traffic grids. Mos Def is the cool explosives dude (just don’t let him near any dogs). Sutherland taught his daughter everything she knows.
But the real stars of this film are the Mini-Cooper and the climactic car chase. Filmmakers used 32 cars from BMW, and shut down Hollywood Boulevard for a week (causing real-life traffic nightmares) for filming. The result? Awesome-it’ll-take-your-breath-away-how-did-they-do-that-car-stunts worth the price of admission.

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