Italian for Beginners
Half baked remake
By Daniel Kraus

Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch gear up for the next heist.

This is a heist flick, and like so many heist flicks, the lead characters have no discernable lives outside of "the job." They were never children. They have no real relationships. They don't eat, they don't pee, they don't pay taxes. They do not really exist. They are simply People Who Steal Stuff, and they only exist for the two hours it takes to watch The Italian Job. Then whoosh-they disappear like the thinly-fabricated fantasies that they so obviously are.

But then again, this IS a heist flick-do we NEED realistic characters? Most heist flicks, after all, feature a rag-tag band of eccentric geniuses who eccentrically amuse us with their genius eccentricities. Often, the thieves are so damn amusing (not to mention genius and eccentric) that audiences forgive them for being flimsy cardboard cut-outs.

The Italian Job is no exception. Charlie (Mark Wahlberg) is the leader of a gang of gold thieves and has a perfect record-until he's double-crossed by Steve (Edward Norton), who swipes the loot and attacks Charlie's fatherly Fagan, John (Donald Sutherland). Charlie joins forces with John's safe-cracking daughter Stella (Charlize Theron) and nerdy computer hacker Lyle (Seth Green), then hatches a plot to snag the gold-and revenge.

After the disastrous one-two punch of Planet of the Apes and The Truth About Charlie, you would think Wahlberg would have had his fill of remakes. If you didn't know-and you probably didn't-The Italian job is a remake of a 1969 Michael Caine/Benny Hill crime caper of the same title. Without seeing the original, and from what you're led to believe by both fans and detractors, it captures an undeniable sense of time and place (the UK the 1960's) and is undeniably well acted.

In the new version, the only actor who doesn't phone in his performance is Sutherland-and, if you've seen the preview, you know what lies in his future. Consequently, we are quickly stranded in the film alongside a posse of overpaid actors, each more bored than the last. Watching Wahlberg and Theron "act" is like watching a professional juggler juggle three balls-they're paying attention, but just barely.

That explains why the characters have names like Skinny Pete, Handsome Rob, Left Ear, and Wrench-SOMETHING has to catch our attention, and it certainly isn't going to be the dialogue. There are a few "sensitive" scenes, mostly between Wahlberg and Theron, but their chemistry is so utterly non-existent that their sudden kiss surprises. And not in a good way.

Thankfully, the film eventually strikes a pleasant note, somewhere between Guy Ritchie's Snatch and David Mamet's The Heist-and considering that both of those films were rather overbaked, it's not a bad note to hit. The movie progresses swiftly and globetrots gleefully-one moment, the thieves are speeding through Venice; the next, they're high atop a snowy peak. There's no reason or explanation for it, but it's fun in an anything-goes James Bond kind of way.

The heists are unbelievable, but fun. For example, the plan hinges on the certainty that one of the thieves can seduce a stranger into bed. Sound a little risky? Try this: the plan also hinges around convincing Norton that Theron is a cable TV installer. You heard me right-Charlize Theron, cable TV installer. Let me know when you're finished laughing.

But these sins are forgivable; let me repeat: this IS a heist flick, and ludicrous plot points are par for the course. And aside from about a dozen computer hacking scenes (when are filmmakers going to understand that typing on a computer is NOT exciting?), The Italian Job is adequately entertaining-it contains inventive thefts, above-average car chases, and an agile camera that seems to understand the film better than any of the actors.

In other words, The Italian Job is bubble-gum entertainment best served by being loud, shiny, and colorful. And until the actors open their mouths, that's exactly what it is. ny proffers that sometimes, we should thank God for unanswered prayers.

Sending Buffalo into an all-out riot by simply saying yes to the millions of prayers that come to him, Bruce quickly realizes that life as a dopey color man with a great girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston) is far superior to being God and getting on the anchor desk. Who knew?

And the moral is: we should all look to the Heavens (or the box office) to thank Hollywood for reminding us of what’s truly important.