One phrase that is always certain to stir up at least a little bit of discussion in the movie-watching world is "turn off your brain." It is considered the secret to enjoying films like Pirates of the Caribbean and most mainstream comedies. Some would argue that a film that requires you to do as much probably hasn't even earned its right to request this favor. Alas, the phrase will always be a popular one because of films like the 2003 remake, The Italian Job. If you think about any of the individual scenes or plot points for any time at all, you're sure to dissatisfied. But as a throwaway heist movie, you could do worse.
Charlie Croker and his team have put together a plan to take revenge on a man who double-crossed them in the past. This is no ordinary heist job (well, yes it is, but the movie wants you to think otherwise); blood has been drawn, and Charlie and his gang want to get even.
The Italian Job opens with its best strongest material. A stylish title sequence, a sincere over-the-phone conversation between one older character and his daughter, and a fun and ridiculous boat chase scene through the canals of Venice. Wally Pfister's cinematography is especially pleasing during these scenes. These first 20 minutes are breezy and fun, but the phone call between dad and daughter adds a thin layer of depth.
After this, all subtly is thrown out the window in favor of character banter, flashy heist-talk, and an extensive car chase at the end. Every heist genre cliche is here, and at 110 minutes, the film is at least 20 minutes too long. There's nothing remarkable here, but it's perfunctory. A minor disappointment after a promising start, but The Italian Job is never less than watchable.
The biggest problem is with our "heroes." Like most heist films, our protagonists are moral-less thieves who live to steal (or vice versa). The issue here is that the characters aren't likable enough for us to overlook their (lack of) moral compass. Some especially reckless behavior in the last act of the film is completely unforgivable. When they've essentially stooped down to the same level as the antagonist, why do we want to root for them?
The cast is fine, but not particularly notable. Donald Sutherland and Charlize Theron stand out the most (though the former isn't in the film much). Mark Wahlberg, Jason Statham, and Mos Def are forgettable. Seth Green is downright obnoxious. Edward Norton as the antagonist is predictably slimy and little else.
Like the film itself, John Powell's score hits all of the genre cliches, but it has its charms. The music is featured in its most palatable state during the title sequence, and remains serviceable after that. The score inevitably gives way to too many electronics and not enough melody at times, but you get what you would expect.
The Italian Job feels like the ideal made-for-TV movie. And I'm not saying that in terms of how it looks onscreen, but rather, the audience it will appeal to. This is made for a disengaged viewing. It's on in the background while you're playing cards with friends. You're waiting for your 8:00 program, and you've got 15 minutes to kill. You're channel-surfing on a Sunday afternoon and you zip in and out of this one. In every sense of the word, The Italian Job is a time waster. It's no Ocean's Eleven, but it's certainly no Ocean's Twelve.