The Italian Job

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Like most movies, “The Italian Job” is about an aging criminal who plans One Last Job before retirement, a very difficult job that will make him ridiculously wealthy. And, like 75 percent of all films ever made, it features a normal, handsome man leading a strange crew of criminals who each have different areas of expertise and corresponding nicknames, e.g., the man who can only hear out of his left ear is called Left Ear. Additionally, much like 2/3 of all the movies Hollywood has ever produced, it has a woman who is brought into the group whom some members are suspicious of, until she demonstrates she can hold her own with the most cunning of male thieves.

Another thing “The Italian Job” has in common with the majority of films released in the United States is that it dots its I’s and crosses its T’s. It is perfunctorily satisfying, ensuring those who deserve punishment receive it, and those who are good and noble make off with the booty. (Of course, right and wrong are all relative here, since even the “good guys” are thieves to the tune of $35 million, but you get the idea.) It’s enjoyable to watch, but not especially compelling.

It begins with the titular heist, in which $35 million in gold bars is stolen from a safe in Venice. The team is led by grandfatherly John Bridger (Donald Sutherland), and his protege, Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg). Carrying out their plans are computer expert Lyle aka Napster (Seth Green), explosives whiz Left Ear (Mos Def, playing a character who is mostly deaf) and getaway driver Handsome Rob (Jason Statham).

They are also aided by Steve (Edward Norton), who is too nondescript to get a nickname, and who you can tell is going to turn on the rest of the crew soon because he serves no distinct function within the group. And sure enough, once the gold is safe, he kills John, thinks he has killed the others, and hightails it to Los Angeles, where a man with $35 million can blend in with the scenery.

Cut to a year later, when the very not-dead crew members reassemble to steal the money back, this time with the help of John’s daughter Stella (Charlize Theron), who has taken her father’s safe-cracking skills and put them to legitimate work, opening safes for the police when they have subpoenas. Still, in the interest of avenging her father’s death, she will enter the world of thievery and bust into Steve’s safe.

An elaborate plan develops, then is retooled, then is adjusted some more. I wish it had taken a bit less time to get where it was going. The eventual outcome is more or less inevitable; it’s the mechanism of the caper that we enjoy, not seeing the characters mill around waiting for the moment to arrive.

This is the sort of movie where everything is a setup for something else. For example, Stella’s fondness for modern technology as an aid in safe-cracking is mentioned; surely this means that at some point, she will have to open a safe manually, like her dad used to do.

And so it’s a generally OK kind of film, with a few funny lines, a couple cool moments of car-chase excitement, and a heapin’ helpin’ of comeuppance. It was painted by the numbers, but it used the right colors.

B- (1 hr., 44 min.; PG-13, a couple mild profanities and a few brief instances of violence.)

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