There is both good and bad news about Paramount’s arrival into the high definition DVD world. The good news is they are supporting HD DVD and Blu-ray formats, and are promising day-and-date new releases with DVD counterparts, including the upcoming Mission: Impossible III and World Trade Center. What is the bad news? Like the other studios that have jumped on board HD DVD and Blu-ray, the first group of releases defined the term “less-than-exciting.” For Blu-ray, Paramount’s initial batch included Aeon Flux, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and The Italian Job.
After pulling off a gold bullion heist worth $35 million from a heavily guarded palazzo in Venice, Italy, Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) and his gang — inside man Steve (Edward Norton), computer whiz Lyle (Seth Green), wheel (and ladies) man Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), explosives expert Left-Ear (Mos Def) and veteran safecracker John (Donald Sutherland) think they are free and clear. That is until Steve pulls a fast one (trust me, I’m not giving anything away here) and takes off with the gold, but not before killing John and assumedly the rest of the gang when their vehicle crashes off a bridge into a river.
Of course, that would make for only a 20-minute movie. Flash forward to a year later, where Charlie has tracked down Steve (and the gold) in California. With the help of John’s daughter Stella (Charlize Theron), herself a safecracker (but on the right side of the law), and his re-assembled crew, Charlie plans to re-steal the gold.
When I saw The Italian Job, a remake of the 1969 caper starring Michael Caine, in the theater back in 2003, it came across like a nearly-competent, assembled piece of entertainment. It was nicely photographed, slickly edited and proficiently put together by director F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator, Be Cool).
But while I admired its craftsmanship, the film left me wanting. For a crime caper such as this to work, you need the following: an element of suspense, unpredictability and danger for the protagonists (Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven is a great example of this.). Gray and screenwriters Donna and Wayne Powers do provide all of these elements, but they are telegraphed so far in advance that the audience is always two or three steps ahead of the onscreen events. The movie plays out exactly how you would expect and does so in such a routine fashion that you find yourself not really liking or hating the film.
One element that did rise above the mediocrity level was the fine work by the ensemble cast. With the exception of the usually reliable Edward Norton, who looked and acted like he wanted to be somewhere else (And most likely did since he only did the film because he was stuck in a contract with Paramount and doesn’t appear in any of the extras.), the cast of The Italian Job works well together. Wahlberg makes for a competent lead, Theron holds her own against the male-dominated cast, while Statham, Green (who does a great impersonation of Statham) and Def trade one-liners with ease. Sutherland, as Charlie’s mentor, is adequate in what ultimately amounts to an extended cameo.
Like the film itself the video transfer (1080p transfer, MPEG-2 encoding, 2.4:1 aspect ratio) of “The Italian Job’s” Blu-Ray release can be summed up as middle of the road. While the majority of the film displays a fine picture with solid colors and detail, the occasional macro-blocking (found in the background during some of the darker scenes), background softness and a few instances where film grain sticks out like a sore thumb knock this transfer down a few notches on the quality level. It’s not up there with the best Blu-Ray releases, but it is a lot more pleasing than some of the earlier BD duds.
There is a scene where Ed Norton screams out where his truck is. I found myself screaming a similar line (with the same use of profanity) when I went looking for the DTS track that was promised on the back of the case. Despite being listed, that audio option has been dropped for this release, leaving us with English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks instead. The English DD track is solid in delivering John Powell’s music score and the myriad of action-flick surround sound effects. Dialogue in the center channel is a bit on shrill side during the first twenty minutes or so, but seems fine for the remainder of the film, making one wonder if perhaps the issue was in the original mix.
In terms of extras, Paramount has ported over the supplements that were found on the DVD release. As is the case with a lot of DVD editions of recent blockbusters, the listing on the back cover promises more than it delivers.
There are five featurettes totaling approximately 40 minutes. Driving School (5 min.) shows Theron, Statham and Wahlberg attending a stunt-driving school prior to filming. The Mighty Minis (5 min.), highlighting the iconic car used in the film and features the cast and crew talking about their experiences with them, comes off more as an extended commercial for the auto. High Octaine (7:30) looks at the stunts and action sequences and features some nifty behind-the-scenes footage. Putting the Words on the Page (6:00) is a mini-interview with the film’s screenwriters. And Pedal to the Metal (17:30) is your typical puff-piece “making of” that gives the impression that the production of the film was the greatest experience in the history of film. These are all presented in 4×3 full-frame (film clips are 4×3 widescreen) and in 480p standard definition.
Rounding out the bonus features are eight minutes of rather uninspired Deleted Scenes (4×3 widescreen, work-print quality) and the Theatrical Trailer that pretty much shows you the entire story in just less than three minutes. Seeing this trailer may have gone a long way in ruining the movie for me, but hey, at least we have it now in high definition!
There is also an Easter Egg to be had, and this extra feature proved to be my favorite on the disc. Highlight the Driving School feature and then arrow to the left. You should see a Cooper Mini highlighted. Hit enter and you will be treated to a humorous reel of Seth Green doing an extended set of his Jason Statham impersonation.
Thanks to some fine performances, The Italian Job proves to be a benign enough feature for an evening’s rental. If you sit down and watch it not expecting to see anything new or out of the ordinary (and haven’t watched the trailer beforehand) you should find the movie a harmless if instantly forgettable ride. The Blu-ray presentation is as average as the film itself, which makes the disc a tough recommendation for purchase to anyone except the biggest Italian Job and Mini Cooper fans.
– Shawn Fitzgerald