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Annoying cast bungles 'Italian Job' with pointless hip bits

| Friday, May 30, 2003

Well, you can say this about remaking "The Italian Job" (1969): Nobody can complain about the foolhardiness of remaking a classic as so many of us did with "Psycho," "Sabrina," "The Thomas Crown Affair," "Charade" (as the abominable "The Truth About Charlie") and "Dial M for Murder" ("The Perfect Murder"), among others.

The most sensible theory about remakes is that the only ones you should attempt are instances of good ideas that got botched the first time. Someone should remake "Mame," for example. (But not scaled down for TV, please.)

The first "Italian Job" arrived in a long, thick cycle of heist flicks that included "Topkapi" and the first "Thomas Crown Affair" and ranked maybe halfway down the list.

Far from improving on the first "Italian Job," the remake simply changes stuff around, Americanizes it and labors to raise the hip quotient by inflicting modern movie attitudes on it.

As John Bridger, Donald Sutherland has the role played in the original by Noel Coward - a veteran safecracker fresh from the brig who masterminds a heist of gold bullion from a palazzo in Venice, Italy.

"Steal to enrich your life," he says, "not to define it."

Whereas Coward's compatriots included Europeans such as Michael Caine, Raf Vallone and Benny Hill, who were compatible with the milieu, Sutherland's are Americans who seem to be cast as a marketable-to-20-and-30-somethings package.

Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) coordinates a team that includes the insider Steve (Edward Norton), the driver called Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), the explosives and weapons expert Left-Ear (Mos Def) and the electronics-computer geek Lyle (Seth Green), who claims to be The Napster. Somehow, I don't think he took much classical music off the Internet.

They do the heist. A traitor reveals himself, swipes the stolen cargo and leaves the others for dead. Sorry, but even his identity is spelled out in the trailer and ads. They track him to Los Angeles with revenge and steal-back in mind.

The second of the picture's big set pieces involves a computer-generated traffic snarl in Los Angeles.

Everything in the original took place in Turin, Italy - a non-essential location but one oozing with Italian charm.

The remake has half a dozen self-impressed guys - not one exhibiting much evidence of character or inner substance - hopping around the globe with head mikes and cell phones, seeming greedy rather than needy.

The screenplay by Donna Powers and Wayne Powers, the writing team behind "Deep Blue Sea," as directed by F. Gary Gray suffers from the illusion that technical equipment heightens the suspense and empathy.

Exactly the opposite is true. The more the mechanical and electronic, the lower the human factor. In "Rear Window," Jimmy Stewart had nothing but binoculars, a few flash bulbs and a manual-dial telephone.

Gray keeps trying to make movies ("The Negotiator," "A Man Apart") on adrenaline and attention-deficit editing alone.

It isn't clear in the remake why there's a theft within the theft since the traitor merely winds up with a new set of accomplices and, should they survive, an extra team of adversaries.

Add to this mix the government-employed vault technician Stella (Charlize Theron). We know she's cool because she looks fabulous, drives too fast and has garbage taste in music. Call her Miss Hip 'n' Hard. Be impressed. She is.

It's up to her to penetrate the traitor's lair.

"The Italian Job" has such high regard for its own knee-jerk voguishness that it neglects to involve us with anything but appearances.

What's exciting about someone playing God with a computer keyboard• What's heroic about creating inner-city havoc to line one's pockets•

There's no movie if the guys aren't worth joining on their joy ride, and Wahlberg is the only actor who manages not to be annoying throughout.

The original was an adult movie, suitable for all audiences. The remake is caught seeming too talkative and sedentary for younger audiences and too noisily and trendily assembled for older audiences.

I'm guessing that like "It Runs in the Family," which at least had more honorable intent, "The Italian Job" is too deeply compromised in concept to satisfy any one segment of the audience.

Additional Information:

Movie Details

'The Italian Job'

Director: F. Gary Gray.

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton.

MPAA rating: PG-13, for violence and some language.

stars

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