The Italian Job
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Written by Donna Powers and Wayne Powers
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton


The Italian Job

One of the famous stories about the making of "The Godfather," back in 1972, is that Paramount didn't want Al Pacino to play Michael. He was too short, they said; they called him 'the midget.' Well, ha-ha to them, of course; he was magnificent in every way. Now, however, in the new film "The Italian Job," another short person is playing the lead character, a thief named Charlie Croker: it is Mark Wahlberg, and unfortunately he is a midget in every way you can think of. He is so understated in his line readings that you think he's talking about how he barely had time to make wrestling practice after sixth-period English; it is time for someone to send him back to play the lead in a high-school production of "Our Town." Maybe he can pick up some seasoning.

The story of the film is not a problem; it is a remake of the 1969 British film of the same title, with Michael Caine and Noel Coward, about a heist, a betrayal, and a search for revenge. Where the original was light and witty, this one is mostly concerned with the mechanics of the revenge. A group of six thieves, led by veteran safecracker John Bridger (Donald Sutherland), carries out a deft theft of $35 million in gold from a safe in a Venice palazzo. As they meet on a snowy mountain road to toast their success, the traitor among them, Steve Frezelli (Edward Norton), kills Bridger, thinks he's killed the others, and makes off with the gold. The balance of the film takes us, with the survivors and Bridger's daughter Stella (Charlize Theron), on a carefully plotted track to get back the gold from Steve.

The surviving crew, in addition to Charlie, is Lyle (Seth Green), a computer nerd who is fixated on the fact that his college roommate stole the idea for Napster from him; Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), the wheelman and repeatedly successful seducer of women; and Left-Ear (Mos Def), who lost the hearing in his right ear when he set off a firecracker in a third-grade toilet at school. They pick up one more, Wrench (Franky G), the auto mechanic who ramps up their three Mini-Coopers with hot-rod components. Stella joins them, bringing her own convenient safecracking skills (she works for a security company in Philadelphia), and they track down Steve in Los Angeles.

The rest of the film takes us through the carefully planned revenge-theft. Norton, in a part that he could walk through with his eyes closed, and wearing a mustache that looks painted on, still has the ability to dominate any scene he's in; it's too bad the role is so one-dimensional.

The film was directed by F. Gary Gray, who last made Vin Diesel's flop "A Man Apart," in which he kept Diesel in the center of the frame for an hour and three-quarters. Here he's quite a bit better at shooting action and holding two or three plot elements in focus simultaneously, and showing the ability to separate his characters so each has a bit of personality. Still, by the last fifteen minutes of the film, he and his writers have stretched out the final chase into terminal ennui, ratcheting up the action beyond any possible believability, then suddenly ending it without a catharsis. In fact, the resolution we expect is held until a voiceover during the final credits. A bad choice.