With the population of most cities around the world continuing to grow year after year, one of the biggest complaints among their residents is having to deal with all of the bad traffic. With too many cars and the often poorly designed roadway infrastructures unable to handle them, traffic jams are right up there with crime and bad schools at the top of many complaint lists.
Yet, what if you could use such gridlock to your advantage, particularly if you could purposefully make it worse and/or control its flow? That was one element in "The Italian Job," the 1969 crime caper that featured Michael Caine, Noel Coward and yes, even Benny Hill, as well as the then popular mini-Cooper.
Like the thieves they feature, director F. Gary Gray ("A Man Apart," "The Negotiator") and writers Donna Powers & Wayne Powers ("Valentine," "Deep Blue Sea") have lifted the car, the traffic jam and some of the same basic plot from the Hollywood vaults for their remake of the film that naturally arrives with the same moniker.
With both the car - now called the MINI - and the story getting the contemporary makeover job, the film feels like a not quite imaginative or successful knockoff of "Ocean's Eleven" what with its large ensemble cast of characters trying to pull off an elaborate heist. That's not to say that it's without its individual charms or fun moments. Rather, it's just not quite as fun, clever or entertaining as it seems to think it is, but possibly could have been.
Boiled down, the story is quite simple. Some thieves steal gold from a Venetian palazzo, but one of their own double-crosses the rest. He kills one, tries to do the same to the others (and thinks he succeeded) and then heads off with the loot. The survivors eventually hunt him down and then try to steal back the twice stolen booty.
As a heist flick, the film opens and closes with the requisite, meticulously planned bits of thievery. The latter one is longer and more satisfying, yet neither is imaginative enough to make such moments as fun as they've been in other similar films.
Those scenes and other moments also need varying amounts of suspension of disbelief to work, mostly due to certain elements and/or actions requiring just the right luck and/or timing. That's particularly true of what's supposed to be the film's signature moments where a computer hacker -- Seth Green ("Knockaround Guys," the "Austin Powers" films) in a mostly entertaining performance - disrupts L.A.'s traffic lights and creates instant gridlock.
Considering the way traffic normally is, that's not hard to buy, but the creation of suddenly passable routes - again with perfect timing - becomes more than a bit far-fetched (since all of the roads would be gridlocked regardless of what lights were then changed).
The result is that such logic - or lack thereof - distracts the viewer from the accompanying car chase sequences where our robbers - in those itty bitty and cute as a bug MINIs try to elude the villain and his men. Most such chases usually involve sexy and/or muscle cars or their equivalent, thus it's somewhat refreshing to see the change of pace - and size - that's on display here.
Even so, it doesn't help that Gray has helmed such scenes like he was shooting a music video. As a result, dual editors Richard Francis-Bruce ("Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "The Shawshank Redemption") and Christopher Rouse ("The Bourne Identity," HBO's "From the Earth to the Moon") have had to resort to piecing the chases back together again. They're only moderately successful as there are simply too many cuts. Those end up killing much of those sequences' momentum, and while they're moderately fun and slightly engaging, they clearly aren't up there with the great chase moments in filmdom.
What the film has going for it is a good sense of humor and a terrific cast, even if the script doesn't do much in giving them opportunities to shine and/or flesh out their characters. Mark Wahlberg ("The Truth About Charlie," "Rock Star") and Charlize Theron ("15 Minutes," "Sweet November") are clearly easy on the eyes as usual and are okay in their roles, but the great Edward Norton ("25th Hour," "Fight Club") is wasted - if still effective - as the mostly one-dimensional, double-crossing villain.
The same holds true for Jason Statham ("Mean Machine," "Snatch") who was so good in "The Transporter" (where he coincidentally also played the driver), Donald Sutherland ("Space Cowboys," "Kelly's Heroes") isn't around long enough to make a difference and Mos Def ("Brown Sugar," Showtime") gets the least screen time of all of them. Nevertheless, most of the characters are charismatic movie criminals, but it's too bad they don't get more worthwhile material and/or time on the screen.
The film is certainly easy enough to watch, as are many heist films, and you probably won't feel shortchanged after watching the new "The Italian Job." Then again, it will likely slide from your memory as readily as a slippery thief extracts himself from a cinematic robbery. The film rates as a 5.5 out of 10.