The Italian Job is proof, if any were needed, that Jerry Bruckheimer no longer has a patent on Jerry Bruckheimer films. It used to be that if you wanted to see a shamelessly trashy popcorn thriller that featured epic fireballs, car chases edited into edgy demolition joyrides, and a demon squad of cutely delineated cool-jerk crooks who deadpan their way through a caper as weightless as it is far-fetched, then only the Bruckmeister could deliver the goods. But ”The Italian Job,” directed by F. Gary Gray, delivers them with minimal imagination and maximum finesse. Since Bruckheimer had nothing at all to do with the film, he should feel jealous or flattered, or both.
In the opening sequence, a crew of burglars, led by Charlie (Mark Wahlberg) and his white-bearded mentor, John (Donald Sutherland), smear explosive paint on the ceilings of a Venice mansion and then detonate it, causing a safe that holds $35 million worth of gold bars to drop neatly through two floors. That’s a fairly clever scheme, but it’s the last one we see in quite a while, as the group is then sabotaged by its renegade member, Steve (Edward Norton), a sleazy sociopath who steals the gold, leaves his former cohorts for dead, and winds up in L.A.
What starts out looking like a cut-rate ”Ocean’s Eleven,” complete with ”hip” brushes-on-the-drums jazz score, is really ”Gone in 60 Seconds 2,” as Charlie and his gang, now joined by John’s safecracking daughter (Charlize Theron), attempt to steal the gold back. If you wonder why they don’t just barge into Steve’s home, duct-tape him to a chair, and force him to give up the money, that’s because we wouldn’t get the playful time waster of a scene in which the comely Theron poses as a cable-TV servicewoman in order to pinpoint the safe’s location.
Want drama? Charlie and his fellow heist artists have each been given one whole, bona fide character trait. There’s Left-Ear (Mos Def), the explosives whiz who is deaf on one side; the British lothario Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), who’s the designated getaway driver; and Lyle (Seth Green), the techie genius who’s brimming with funny, short-guy resentment that his invention of Napster was pilfered. Wahlberg, as the group’s ringleader, is still overplaying his understatement, but he has a brusque authority that he lacked in his last couple of pictures; his blasé swagger holds the movie together.
There’s a fair amount of filler in ”The Italian Job,” but it all boils down to the big heist, which has been staged as if it were Fort Knox being robbed by Evel Knievel. The trio of MINI Coopers featured in the movie’s crushingly elaborate car chase are a comic sight to behold: They speed around like zippy toy ladybugs. Timing is everything in a climax like this, and watching ”The Italian Job,” you can feel the audience get in synch with every slashingly edited, technologically split-second moment – like the one in which the noise and movement suddenly drop out; Lyle stares at the laptop he’s using to control L.A. traffic and tells his comrade to ”take the next left”; and the chaos blithely resumes. That’s the movie in a nutshell: glib, violently unreal, and gone in 60 seconds.