In heist movies, there's always one crook who wants out. The footdragger here was Edward Norton -- not on screen, but behind the scenes. In a widely reported contract fracas, Paramount insisted that the actor fulfill an old commitment by costarring in the studio's revamping of the 1969 gold-theft caper, a U.K. cult fave. Norton's reps have no comment, but Mark Wahlberg, who stepped into the gang-leader role Michael Caine played in the original, says, ''I think it was just a case of him not liking to be told what to do.... Once he got over that, he found his groove, and he had a great time.'' Except maybe on the day Norton hopped out of a helicopter for a shot and sprained his ankle, which Wahlberg recalls as ''not pleasant at all.''
The original flick climaxed with a convoy of teeny Mini Cooper cars careering through the alleys of Turin laden with bullion. This time, the Italian component is limited to a first-act robbery in Venice where speedboats provide the getaway. Once the action shifts to L.A., Minis show up again, as the thieves use them to escape into the subway after engineering a massive traffic jam. To get that sequence, director F. Gary Gray (''A Man Apart'') tied up Hollywood Boulevard for seven days. ''I got a lot of phone calls from friends,'' he recalls, ''saying 'I'm late for work 'cause of your ass. Hurry up and finish.'''
BMW recently introduced Minis in the U.S. (Austin Powers drove one in ''Goldmember,'' as did ''The Bourne Identity'''s Matt Damon), and the company provided a fleet for stunts. ''They wouldn't let us keep any as gifts,'' says Gray. ''Concerns about liability.'' Fine with Wahlberg, who had a little accident riding shotgun with a stunt driver. ''I threw up all over the place,'' he confesses. ''I'm not good in the passenger seat of a stick shift.''