After his disastrous attempt to fill Cary Grant’s shoes in Jonathan Demme’s otherwise stylishly off-the-cuff The Truth About Charlie, Mark Wahlberg botches another remake, this time as a bank robber extraordinaire in F. Gary Gray’s tedious The Italian Job (the 1969 original starred Michael Caine in the lead role). Wahlberg has publicly stated that the film is his best yet, which makes one wonder: has the actor come down with Burt Reynolds Syndrome, unable to comprehend the career pinnacle that was Boogie Nights? In PT Anderson’s epic, Wahlberg’s one-and-a-half-dimensional acting skills were perfectly in sync with his character Dirk Diggler’s fanciful delusions of legitimate movie stardom; the symmetry between this real-life rapper-turned-actor playing a porn star falsely convinced of his own acting prowess was a sublime bit of casting. Wahlberg’s subsequent underwhelming A-list roles have relied on the actor’s emotional and intellectual blankness but to devastating effect.
In The Italian Job, Wahlberg stars as Charlie Croker, an ace thief who’s loved and admired by his mentor-cum-father-figure, the dapper old pro John Bridger (Donald Sutherland). The two are planning to steal $35 million in Italian gold, and the heist is supposed to be Bridger’s last hurrah (isn’t that always the case?). Their gang of criminal specialists sport typical only-in-the-movies nicknames like Jason Statham’s Handsome Rob (the car driver), Mos Def’s Left Ear (the explosives expert), and Seth Green’s Lyle (the computer whiz), who claims that he created Napster—a fitting reference, given that everything in this pedestrian action flick seems to have been pirated from either the original Italian Job template or every other mid-level summer action extravaganza of the past 10 years. Their plan goes typically awry when Steve (Ed Norton, sporting a paper-thin moustache that immediately suggests he’s up to no good) double-crosses his buddies by snatching the gold, murdering Bridger, and, in one of those moments that Austin Powers loves to parody, attempts to kill the rest of the crew but leaves the scene of the crime before making sure they’re actually dead.
Since there wouldn’t be a movie without our heroes cheating death, the guys survive Steve’s ambush (yawn) and, one year later, reunite to steal the gold back from their former accomplice, who’s now hiding out in Los Angeles. To replace the dearly departed Bridger, Charlie enlists Bridger’s daughter Stella (Charlize Theron), the most beautiful “safe and bolt technician” ever to walk planet Earth, to help crack Steve’s super-duper home safe. Stella and Charlie are excellent partners, with Theron exuding runway model radiance and Wahlberg exhibiting underwear model vacuity, and neither is better than in a scene that calls for Charlie to comfort a distraught Stella in a run-down motel bedroom: sticking out like gorgeous sore thumbs in this drab setting, one expects Charlie to turn to Stella and suggest that they bag the whole plan and go get a pedicure instead.
Unfortunately, such flights of fancy are sorely lacking from this snooze-fest, and, with its straightforward revenge premise firmly established, The Italian Job merely grinds to a complete standstill. Charlie and company ably satisfy the script’s mandate that they fill up screen time with comical banter and silly montages—including one that would be right at home in any episode of “The A-Team”—until the ho-hum climax, which finds the thieves grabbing Steve’s gold and fleeing the scene of the crime in their Mini Coopers while Lyle creates a massive L.A. traffic jam to aid their escape. This action sequence (lifted, in spirit if not execution, from the original film) strives for old-fashioned authenticity, utilizing no computer-generated effects in detailing the tiny cars’ high-speed route out of the city. Such a concept may be admirable in theory, but, like Norton’s unbelievably dull villain—a man who uses his pilfered gold to acquire the lavish items his former partners had dreamed of buying with their share of the loot—the lifeless finale has about as much imagination as a Mini has trunk space.