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Offering one of the slickest pieces of pure entertainment in recent memory, The Italian Job is the complete heist-flick package. It’s loaded with action, thrills, humor, and well-defined characters that tie it all together.

Mini Makes the World Go Round

Minis make the world go round
Minis make the world go round

The action starts in Venice, where a band of heist artists steal a safe full of gold bricks right out from under its owners. Literally.

From there, it’s pedal-to-the-medal non-stop action as one of the crew double-crosses his cohorts in crime and then becomes the target of a revenge job.

That’s the story in a nutshell, but the shenanigans this team of likeable thieves goes through to get the job done are something to behold.

Making it all the more enjoyable is the effort put into giving the characters real character, going so far as to offer some brief, but very funny, bits of back story for each of the main players.

Chief among them is Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg, Three Kings). He’s a pleasant, fairly low-key kind of guy who’s been taken under the wing of John Bridger (Donald Sutherland, Instinct), a master thief who regrets the mistakes he’s made that have kept him from spending more time with his daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron, The Yards).

Stella, though, has followed in her father’s footsteps as a safecracker, but on the right side of the law, helping the police in their time of need.

But let’s not forget Lyle (Seth Green, the Austin Powers trilogy), a brilliant, over-teched and under-sexed, computer geek who’s involved in one of the movie’s funniest running gags. Centered around Napster, it’s elaborate enough to include a cameo appearance by Mr. Napster himself, Shawn Fanning.

And there’s also Handsome Rob (Jason Statham, Snatch) and the mostly-deaf Left Ear (Mos Def, Showtime). Suffice it to say they each have their own quirks and got their nicknames for a reason.

Eenie, Meenie, Mini, Moe

In 1969 Michael Caine starred in The Italian Job with such luminaries of the day as Benny Hill and Noel Coward. That film offers a launching point for this edition, which takes the source material and pumps it up for the new millennium.

Remaining intact is the original’s centerpiece, a “manufactured” traffic jam that allows the clever crew of cons to, in this version, cruise through the mean streets of Hollywood with relative ease. Featuring a trio of Mini Coopers (colored red, white, and blue), the getaway is a modern-day classic that becomes a big showcase for one of the world’s smallest cars.

After the resounding failure of A Man Apart, released earlier this year, director F. Gary Gray has recovered nicely and The Italian Job proves to be one of the smartest and biggest surprises of the year. Following in the footsteps of other recent heist remakes such as Ocean’s Eleven and The Good Thief, Gray’s take on the genre is by far the most enjoyable.

Not intended as a faithful remake or merely a re-telling, this Job is a souped-up homage to its predecessor.

Would You Like to Mini-Size That?

If there is a complaint to be made about The Italian Job it’s that the movie is too infatuated with technology. For every conceivable situation, there’s a software program that can provide the gang with the exact piece of information they need – right on the spot. It’s enough to make even James Bond blush with PC envy.

That said, it’s a nice twist that human touch, not computers, that ultimately gets the gold.

Also, surprisingly on the weak side is Edward Norton’s performance. While he can be dark and edgy in movies like Fight Club, here, as Steve Frezelli, he is far more sleazy than menacing. Norton seems to be channeling Sean Penn with his string mustache, soul patch, and brown leather pimp jacket. As far as bad guys go, he lacks imagination.

But Norton lucked out this time. Since it’s an ensemble cast, the rest of the group, particularly Theron, Def, and Green, more than cover for him. They all help make The Italian Job turn into an offer that can’t be refused.