So yeah, this is the flick that pits Mark Wahlberg against Edward Norton, and if that doesn’t sound like the makings for an unintentional comedy, I dunno what does. Ladies and gentlemen, in this corner, we have Marky Mark, the musclebound former underwear model and hip-hopper with one facial expression to his name. And in this corner, we have Eddie “The Contender” Norton, one of the finest actors of his young generation, scarily, subtly mesmerizing onscreen and holder of two, count ’em, two be-yoo-tiful Oscar nominations. *ding*
Oh, but I kid The Italian Job. Wahlberg is quite capable within his range — somewhere in the vicinity of the sweetly befuddled Everyman — which he doesn’t stray too far from here. And Norton is canny enough to know that a bit of ham and cheese is exactly what’s called for in a movie in which the automobiles are the big stars. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Remember how Inigo Montoya said there’s not a lot of money in revenge? He was wrong — there’s $35 million in revenge for Charlie Croker (Wahlberg: The Truth About Charlie, Rock Star). See, he planned this amazingly perfect heist of gold bullion from a fabulous old mansion in Venice, complete with cool explosions and boat chases through the canals, and then it all got futzed up when his partner in crime, Steve Frezelli (Norton: 25th Hour, Frida), double-crossed Charlie and stole the stolen gold and did some other Very Bad Things. Now, Charlie proposes to resteal the twice-stolen gold back from Frezelli in Los Angeles, where there are awesome opportunities for staging car chases through gridlocked traffic in itsy-bitsy cars. (Yeah, this is the movie that’s basically a commercial for Mini Coopers. “But they’re cool!” my responds-to-advertising gland salivates.) It’s not about the money, Charlie insists, but about outsmarting the guy who outsmarted the rest of them, or something. But they’ll keep the money, too.
It’s a bit of stretch to imagine Wahlberg as a criminal mastermind — the aforementioned befuddledness and a general out-of-his-depthness is fairly important to his believability onscreen, and Charlie is several IQ percentiles beyond the point at which snickers begin to be elicited. But perhaps Charlie is only being enabled in a delusion of criminal mastermindedness by the clear competence what’s left of his gang: the computer geek (the always amusing Seth Green: Austin Powers in Goldmember, Knockaround Guys), the precision driver (Jason Statham: Ghosts of Mars, Snatch), the explosives expert (Mos Def: Brown Sugar, Showtime). Still, you kinda don’t have to be a nuclear genius to figure out that when you look around and you’re surrounded by refugees from other action movies and guys who always play geeky comic relief, the one skinny dude with the porn-star moustache and the Oscar nominations is inevitably the sneaky bastard who’s gonna betray you.
For all the foregone conclusions inherent in a film that 1) is a remake (of a 1969 Michael Caine flick), 2) is a contemporary Hollywood product in which every “twist” is scheduled to within the nanosecond, and 3) is utterly and completely given away by its unforgivably revealing trailer, there’s a helluva lot to enjoy here beyond Wahlberg’s charm and Norton’s bwahaha glee. Director F. Gary Gray (A Man Apart, The Negotiator) makes sure it all crackles with energy and even, surprisingly, a good dose of suspense, though it comes not from the machinations of the rote script — by Donna Powers and Wayne Powers (responsible as a team for the uninspired Valentine and Deep Blue Sea) — but from the appealing gameness of the cast and the tongue-in-cheek staging of the action. Yes, we’ve seen it all before, and dang if we’re not about to see it all again, but look! Ain’t those Mini cars — of which there are many here — just the cutest things to hit the screen since the Love Bug, and ain’t they downright adorable in their very own chase sequences? Take that, 2 Fast 2 Furious! Ain’t it neat to frontload the summer with a hot chick — Charlize Theron (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, 15 Minutes) — who’s cool and competent and sexy without having to, you know, literally wriggle her ass in the camera? Take that, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle!
Hell, you’ll probably save yourself a ton of dough by just seeing The Italian Job now and calling it quits for the rest of the summer.