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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Italian Job (2003), The (HD DVD)
Italian Job (2003), The (HD DVD)
Paramount // PG-13 // August 8, 2006 // Region 0
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 1, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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I've never actually gotten around to seeing the original '69 spin on The Italian Job with Michael Caine, so I don't have any soft focus, Seasons-in-the-Sun memories to betray. Even though I have no idea how it stacks up against the original and can't spout off the obligatory "hey, Hollywood! Stop remaking stuff!" introduction you've come to know and love from unimaginative DVD reviewers, I'm a fan of this 2003 retread. The Italian Job opens in...hey, Italy! Venice, specifically. John Bridger (Donald Sutherland) has spent most of his life bouncing in and out of prison, but this sage advice-spouting safecracker has reteamed with his protégé Charlie (Mark Wahlberg) for One Last Job®: a payday of $35 million in gold bricks. Charlie's assembled a crack team that includes The One True Napster-slash-automagic hacker Lyle (Seth Green), charismatic Bri'ish wheelman Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), a demolitions expert saddled with the nickname Left Ear after pulling a Keith Moon in an elementary school john (Mos Def), and Steve (Edward Norton), who's just kinda there to screw his pals over, kill John, and leave everyone else for dead in the icy waters of I-Don't-Know-Where.

It's taken Charlie a full year to track down Steve to his palatial L.A. compound, and although he and his crew are ready to steal back however much gold's left in the kitty, they still need a skilled safe cracker to finish the job. Enter John's daughter Stella (Charlize Theron). She's carried on in Pops' footsteps, able to bust open the world's most elaborate safes in five minutes flat, only she's a Vault and Safe Technician for the forces of good and is still miffed that Charlie's responsible for dragging her father into the caper that cost him his life. After the requisite blow-you-off-at-first-then-tearfully-call-you-to-say-I'm-in-and-dramatically-hang-up time has passed, she joins Charlie and company in prepping for Heist Number Two: the same routine as the Italian job. Only it's not in Italy anymore. And they use a fleet of Mini Coopers instead of speed boats. And some other stuff, but you get the general idea.

The Italian Job is exactly the movie it sets out to be -- an infectiously fun heist flick. Yeah, I know that sounds like the kind of awkward soundbite you'd spot on the back of the DVD case, but it's deserved. The quick and painless explanation why kicks off with the ensemble cast. Mos Def, Jason Statham, and Seth Green play off each other really well, and the movie doesn't bog them down with a bunch of overcharacterization. Their personalities are fleshed out just enough to serve the plot and set up a few solid laughs a piece. Charlize Theron takes the thankless role of outsider/love interest and gives it some emotional heft. The only drab performances are by Mark Wahlberg, although he did yank the short straw and wound up with the least inspired character in the movie, and Edward Norton sleepwalking his way through a contractual obligation.

The Mini Coopers ought to have landed first billing in The Italian Job, though. The movie relies on next to no CGI gimmickry, and what little there is isn't used for any of the collisions or the chaotic chases through the city and subway system. The heist sequences that open and close the film are as frenetic and well-staged as any that a seasoned action director could knock out, and the elaborate scheming to get to Point B is every bit as entertaining even without all the high-octane stuff. The movie also makes the most of its locations. Don't Look Now ranks somewhere in my top twenty-five, so it's kind of a thrill to see Donald Sutherland against a Venetian backdrop even without a safe exploding its way down three stories or a high-speed, gondola-trashing boat chase through this devastatingly beautiful city. Most of the movie is set in Los Angeles, which may be the only city on the planet where a statuesque goddess like Charlize Theron would be believable as a cable company tech. (The legions of 6' blondes have to pay the bills somehow after pilot season.)

Dumbed down to three letters, The Italian Job is fun. The movie delivers exactly what it promises -- a breezy, funny, kinetic caper -- and it's not only the best of the popcorn flicks from Paramount's opening HD DVD salvo but one of my favorite action/comedies of the past few years.

Video: This 2.40:1 HD DVD of The Italian Job is kinda drab looking. I'm not sure how much of this can be traced back to the original photography, but the contrast in a fair number of scenes is flat, and the presence of fine detail in this slightly grainy image is middling at best. Even with some nasty edge enhancement generously applied to a few shots (the first time I've spotted any on HD DVD), this is one of the softer looking releases I've seen on the format. Some slight speckling also rears its head. I'm sure that the HD DVD would easily win out if I were to do an A/B comparison with the 2003 DVD release, but I also think that if some random person who doesn't spend all day reloading the AVS Forum strolled into my living room twenty minutes in, the response would be somewhere in the neighborhood of "That's high definition? Really?" Like Tomb Raider, another early HD DVD release from Paramount, The Italian Job has a few scattered moments that look really spiffy, but the remainder don't rank much higher than an indifferent "...okay".

Audio: The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio hovers around the average mark for this sort of energetic caper flick. The soundtrack really kicks in during the heists that bookend the movie, keeping all five primary speakers pumping and serving up two scoops of foundation-threatening bass, especially during the safe-swallowing detonations. The audio is fine, sure, but an awful lot of it sounds more like a regular DVD than a souped-up HD DVD. Actually, its most aurally impressive moment isn't even in the movie proper; for some reason, I was especially wowed by the techno-inflected number that thumps over the opening credits. Dialogue sounds clipped throughout a good bit of the film, starting with one of the very first lines from Donald Sutherland.

This is the sixth Paramount HD DVD review I've scrawled over the past few days, so you may have the routine committed to memory by now: Subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. Full bitrate DTS 5.1 track in English. Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 dubs in Spanish and French.

Supplements: The Italian Job sports one of the blander sets of extras from Paramount's initial HD DVD barrage. First up is "The Italian Job - Driving School", a five minute chat with the cast talking about their comfort level behind the wheel and the weeks of training that preceded the shoot. The cars pop up again in the next two featurettes: "The Mighty Minis of The Italian Job" (5 minutes) and "High Octane: Stunts from The Italian Job" (8 minutes). A hefty chunk of the former plays like an infomercial for the Mini Cooper, but it gets better as it goes along, gabbing about the abuse they put these cars through and the modifications made for the movie. The stunts featurette is the meatiest of the extras on this disc (and the only one worth taking the time to watch, really), describing the reluctance to resort to CGI and running through three of the movie's key sequences in detail.

The off-the-rack EPK "Pedal to the Metal: The Making of The Italian Job" squanders most of its eighteen minute runtime on Mutual Admiration Society fawning and clips from the movie. The last of the featurettes is "Putting the Words on the Page for The Italian Job", an interview with husband and wife writing team Donna and Wayne Powers. They start off by noting their respectfully hands-off approach to the original material and the initial concept for the opening heist. The interview kind of stutters and sputters a few minutes in and drags on longer than it really should have.

There are also eight minutes' worth of deleted scenes that have been tossed on in awfully rough workprint quality. Half of that time is spent with Charlie taking a stab at impressing Stella at a ritzy bar, and the rest extend the climax with some pointless scenes of Left Eye failing miserably at driving stick. The movie's better for 'em being tossed. A high definition trailer rounds out the extras.

Conclusion: The Italian Job is a fun caper flick that may be playing a kinda familiar tune but still manages to hit all the right notes. Since there are so few worthwhile extras and because the video and audio really aren't all that noteworthy, you might be better off waiting for The Italian Job to wind up back in rotation on Showtime HD or grab the DVD for seven bucks and change. Recommended, but just 'cause I like the movie.

Standard image disclaimer: the pictures scattered around this review were lifted from AllMoviePhoto.com and don't necessarily reflect the appearance of this HD DVD. Pictures make things pretty.
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