After George Clooney and company had a big hit with their Ocean's 11 remake for Warner Bros. in 2001, Paramount decided to get in on that action by dusting off another 1960s ensemble caper classic. The most promising property under the studio's control was The Italian Job, a picture famous for its witty dialogue and inventive Mini Cooper car chase. Picked to direct was F. Gary Gray (Set It Off, The Negotiator), with Mark Wahlberg and a new funky bunch of criminals stepping in for Michael Caine, Noel Coward, and Benny Hill. The result has little to do with the original film and feels very much like an impersonal studio project (whereas Soderbergh and his cast seemed to be having a genuine lark working together), but was put together with skill and intelligence. Despite odds to the contrary, the Italian Job redux holds its ground as one of the more entertaining of the recent waive of heist thrillers.
Since the remake comes under the auspices of Hollywood, most of the action this time has been transplanted from the original European locales to Los Angeles, where production costs are easier to manage on a modestly budgeted movie like this. In order to justify the title, a prologue sequence tells the story of the infamous "Italian job", where a crew of daring criminals stole from the Mafia and escaped through the canals of Venice. Donald Sutherland is the retiring master thief on his last job, with Wahlberg as the protégé he treats like a son. Also in the crew are Seth Green as their tech expert, Jason Statham as the driver, and Mos Def handling demolitions. Edward Norton tags along to stab them in the backs and run off with the loot, prompting the setting shift to L.A.
Naturally, such a betrayal doesn't sit will with the remaining team, who track Norton's character down and vow to steal back their hard-earned gold. Sutherland's daughter (Charlize Theron) is brought in for her safe-cracking skills and to give Wahlberg a romantic interest. Their elaborate plan involves hijacking the entire Los Angeles traffic control system and causing massive gridlock, through which only their set of three tricked-out Mini Coopers (in homage to the prior film) can navigate.
Sure, the "honor among thieves" theme is a bit rote, but the movie's script is tightly plotted with a few neat twists and Gray delivers some energized direction. The Mini Cooper chase in particular is great fun, even though part of it detours through the L.A. Riverbed, perhaps the most overused action movie location of all time. The cast has great rapport on screen, except Norton who made it very clear during production that he was only appearing due to a contractual obligation and didn't want to make the movie. But hey, he's a villain, so everybody's supposed to hate him anyway. The actor has made a career out of playing fast-talking dirtbags who think they're smarter than they really are, and you couldn't ask for better in that type of role.
The new Italian Job didn't hit the blockbuster heights of Ocean's 11, but was a modest box office hit in the summer of 2003 and has been popular in cable syndication and home video. If not exactly a modern classic, it's a fun ride and worth a look.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The Italian Job debuts on the Blu-ray format courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The studio previously released the title on HD DVD in August of this year.
Blu-ray discs are only playable in a compatible Blu-ray player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in an HD DVD player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Italian Job Blu-ray is encoded in High Definition 1080p format using MPEG2 compression on a single-layer 25 gb disc. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 with letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
I'm certain that this transfer is a straight recycling of the master struck for the DVD released back in 2003. That's really too bad, because it has some significant problems and the movie needs a good remastering. Of its positive attributes, the picture is reasonably sharp and detailed, and has a decent sense of depth. It also has perfect flesh tones and excellent colors, especially the deep red and blue paint jobs on the Mini Coopers which really leap off the screen. Unfortunately, the disc is plagued by a disgusting amount of edge enhancement ringing in almost every scene. The artificial sharpening also tends to give film grain a noisy electronic texture that's rather unpleasant. The film has nice photography and deserves better than the treatment it's gotten here.
The Italian Job Blu-ray disc is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over a Blu-ray player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in standard Dolby Digital 5.1 format. The track is set for a low default volume and may require amplification above normal settings.
After adjusting the volume, the disc has a pretty good sound mix for a caper movie of this type. The bouncy musical score has some decent throbbing bass. Gun shots and other sound effects are crisply recorded and delivered. The surround channels also get a good workout during the action scenes. Fidelity is about average Dolby Digital quality; it can't compete with the better lossless or uncompressed soundtracks available on HD disc, but it gets by for what it is. Even if nothing about the track stood out to me as exceptional, it's solid work all around.
Somewhere in the middle of the movie there's a blatantly overdubbed line of dialogue involving the phrase "mother-freakin' Ukrainians". I suspect that the scene was shot with another word in the middle there. I didn't see the movie theatrically to know whether this alteration is specific to home video or if it was always like that.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles – English, English captions for the hearing impaired, French, or Spanish.
Alternate language tracks - French or Spanish DD 5.1.
The disc automatically opens with a lengthy Blu-ray promo that can fortunately be skipped but is a nuisance. All of the bonus features on this Blu-ray title are recycled from the DVD edition and are presented in Standard Definition video with MPEG2 compression, except the trailer which is encoded in High Definition. All of the supplements from the DVD have carried over. Unfortunately, they don't amount to much.
- Driving School (6 min.) – A look at the cast being trained for stunt driving.
- The Mighty Minis of The Italian Job (6 min.) - A profile of the tricked-out cars used in the climactic chase. 32 cars in all were needed to substitute for the 3 seen on screen.
- High Octane: Stunts from The Italian Job (8 min.) – Director Gray discusses his desire to avoid CGI and obvious visual effects. The Venice canal chase, the truck drop, and the helicopter stunts are analyzed.
- Pedal to the Metal: The Making of The Italian Job (18 min.) – A pretty standard making-of piece, mostly a love letter to the director, cast, and stunt coordinators. The difficulties working with Norton are not mentioned.
- Putting the Words on the Page for The Italian Job (6 min.) – The screenwriters discuss their script development and their intention of avoiding too many similarities with the original film.
- Deleted Scenes (9 min.) – One funny but unneeded extension to the introduction of Theron's character and five additions to the Mini Cooper chase are offered. It turns out that an entire subplot involving Statham and Mos Def's characters was cut out of the chase.
- Theatrical Trailer - Presented in HD, the trailer gives away too much information and doesn't sell the film all that well.
A fun crime thriller, The Italian Job merits a recommendation for entertainment value even if the High-Def transfer leaves something to be desired. The Blu-ray quality, like the earlier HD DVD, is just good but not great.
Four Brothers (HD DVD) - Mark Wahlberg
16 Blocks (HD DVD) - Mos Def
HD Review Index
High-Def Revolution – DVDTalk's HD Column
Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray Player