The Italian Job Review
It all sounded like it was going to be so bad…
About the time Sly Stallone was stumbling his way through “you’re a big man but you’re in bad shape” in the ill-advised remake of Get Carter, word filtered through that the next Michael Caine film to get the remake treatment would be the Italian Job. Now it’s one thing for Hollywood to re-hash a classic movie like Carter, but a national treasure like the Italian Job? What with “Marky”-Mark Wahlberg in the Michael Caine role, and the action transferred to Los Angeles, the whole set-up was sounding like an insult to any self-respecting Englishman. Then word leaked out that Edward Norton had been forced into taking a role in the film via contractual obligation and was disowning the film. Was this going to be the stinker of all remakes?
Surprisingly, the end result has turned out to be far better than could possibly have been expected, and indeed one of the better remakes of late. The key reason for this is simple: instead of attempting to rework the same plot (as in Get Carter for instance) only the bare bones of the story have been carried forward to this version. We have the Minis, we have the traffic jam, we have the gold bullion, but other than a few character names, it’s a whole new story. In truth, to have attempted a plot-based remake of the original would have been a guaranteed total disaster, and fortunately the new screenwriters understood this. The original Italian Job was iconic in its flag-waving Englishness; it’s why it’s always there on the television just before a big England football match (and why it's practically unknown on the other side of the Atlantic). Of course making a new story rather than a re-hash is not always a recipe for success, as the Rollerball remake demonstrated, but here a decent new story gives us effectively a new film with elements of the original.
This version of the film could almost be regarded as a sequel, as it begins with the heist in Italy (purely to justify the title) then onto the mountain road escape. Instead of the way the original spun out, this time gang member Steve (Edward Norton) double-crosses them, takes the gold, and leaves them for dead in an icy lake. The action then moves to the USA, where Croker (Mark Wahlberg) re-assembles the gang, and with the addition of Mr Bridger’s daughter Stella (Charlize Theron) they plan to audaciously reclaim “their” gold bullion. This of course is done with the use of three Minis and a plan to hack the traffic light system to cause congestion on the streets of Los Angeles.
Mark Wahlberg has become the king of remakes recently, taking on Cary Grant’s Charade role in The Truth About Charlie and Charlton Heston’s in Planet of the Apes, neither of which brought him much credit. He’s much better here, especially as he’s not in any way trying to replicate Michael Caine’s Charlie Croker. He still seriously lacks the charisma and presence of a true leading man though. Much better are the supporting cast, including Seth Green as a computer geek with a running joke about claiming to have invented Napster, Jason Statham as Handsome Rob and Mos Def as “Left Ear”. Of course in Michael Caine’s day the “birds” were packed off well before the action started, but here Charlize Theron joins the gang as an expert safe cracker. Edward Norton doesn’t have to push his acting ability too far as bad guy Steve, but his involvement in no way should have generated the disassociation he appeared to make from the film.
Once again though, it wouldn’t even remotely be an “Italian Job” if it didn’t feature Minis, and BMWs resurrection of the model a couple of years back effectively allowed this movie to be made. In a way, setting the movie in the USA makes more sense with these cars, as they are not anywhere near as small and nimble as the originals were in making way their way through tight spaces. In America though, compared with the monster SUVs that everyone now seems to drive, they are positively microscopic. The actual chase sequences are well put together, even if they aren’t the sheer spectacle of Remy Julienne’s stunt team driving of the original. A confrontation between a Mini and a helicopter is probably the standout of the new sequences.
This new version is certainly no “classic” as the original movie was, even if the original is more of a classic for what it stands for rather than as a film itself. But it had so much potential to be an appalling insult to a film held with so much affection; the fact that it’s a stylish and entertaining caper movie is a credit to those involved. And on a final note, if they had made a faithfully plot-based remake, it would have required them to put a bulldozer through two Jaguars and an Aston Martin, and that was painful enough the first time around!