Movie Article

Keepin' It Wheel

How ''The Italian Job'' got done -- without CGI. The film's mega-chase of MINI Coopers burned rubber through L.A.'s busy streets

Mos Def, Seth Green, ... | HANGIN' WITHT THE COOPERS Seth Green, Mos Def, Jason Statham, Wahlberg, and Theron drove themselves in many of the scenes
Image credit: The Italian Job: Claudette Barius
HANGIN' WITHT THE COOPERS Seth Green, Mos Def, Jason Statham, Wahlberg, and Theron drove themselves in many of the scenes

How do you turbocharge a car chase in a summer-movie season jammed with them? Simple: The team that engineered the heist flick ''The Italian Job'' got actual cars, trained a cast including Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron to handle as much of the driving as possible, and shot nearly all of their stunts on unmistakably, unfakeably real locations. In other words, buck the traffic streaming into computer-graphics territory.

''That's being done by everybody now,'' says Wahlberg of computer-generated sequences filled with videogame-style flying bodies and somersaulting vehicles. ''Everybody from 'The Matrix' to 'Bulletproof Monk.'''

While director F. Gary Gray (''The Negotiator,'' ''Set It Off'') won't cop to it, money must have been at least a partial consideration in going the lower-tech route. CGI remains pricey, and the reported $75 million budget for ''Italian Job'' is about half the amount said to be involved in such CG-heavy motor mayhem spectacles as ''The Matrix Reloaded'' and the upcoming sequel ''Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.'' Shooting what are called ''practicals'' is generally cheaper -- though certainly not easier.

Gray worried most about how he could possibly pull off a central sequence in which Wahlberg's crew of gold-napping thieves tie up traffic around L.A.'s Hollywood Boulevard, then make a getaway by driving three MINI Cooper cars over the sidewalk and down into the subway. He wound up getting the sequence in the can in seven grueling days of location work. ''There was a lot of politics required,'' says Gray. ''A lot of payoffs and a lot of ass kissing.'' One of the most onerous compromises: Shops had to remain open and tourists had to be allowed to amble the sidewalk unimpeded between takes, lest local commerce be thwarted. The looky-loo brigade pretty much stayed out of camera range on the cry of ''Action!'' but Gray still winces recalling a flock of drag queens who ran right into a shot in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Says the director, ''I had to tell them that wasn't quite my vision for the scene.''

Originally posted Jun 05, 2003 Published in issue #714 Jun 13, 2003 Order article reprints