film: Gold Standard 

This “Italian Job” remake may suffer from second-generation, lowered expectations, but its cool cast and fast-paced action rev up the fun.

It takes Charlie a year, but he finally tracks Steve to Los Angeles, where he’s living under an assumed name and fencing the gold bullion a bar or two at a time. Tracking down the surviving members of his old team, Charlie sets in motion a cleverly complicated revenge. Central to Charlie’s plot is new team member Stella (Charlize Theron), the daughter of the late John Bridger (Sutherland), she has a personal stake in the con as well.

“The Italian Job” is directed by F. Gary Gray, and in the spirit of fair play, I must give credit where credit is due. After sitting through the woefully uneven, Gray-helmed, Vin Diesel cop drama “A Man Apart,” imagine how surprised I was by the directing talent on display here. It’s hard to believe the same man directed the shiny, snappy “Italian Job.” In truth, it’s hard to believe they were filmed on the same planet. Only time will tell if Gray is one of those directors who’s helpless when handed a bad script but handily rises to the challenge when presented with a good one.

The script here (by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Donna and Wayne Powers, from Troy Kennedy-Martin’s original) is quite good for an updated rework. Not only satisfyingly complicated without resorting to last-minute, outlandish “twists,” the movie’s dialogue is crisp and hip without being arch or self-conscious.

The script actually seems to spur on both Gray and his cast, especially Wahlberg, who carries himself through the movie with a new, self-possessed confidence. (Which is particularly amazing considering the drubbing he got for his performance in the abysmal “The Truth About Charlie.”)

Adding to the fast-paced fun are two bravura action set-pieces that bookend “The Italian Job”: a speedboat chase through the canals of Venice following the movie’s opening gold heist, and the protracted, heart-pounding, “how-did-they-do-that?” climactic rush-hour car chase through Los Angeles involving a fleet of Mini Coopers, armored cars, motorcycles, a helicopter, a subway train and an assortment of innocent civilian drivers. Gray imbues these scenes with palpable pleasure, bringing a wit and bounce to the action scenes in “The Italian Job” that complements both the friendly banter among conspirators and the menacing tug-of-words between Charlie and Steve.

Now, no one will confuse “The Italian Job” for a work of art, but its craftsmanship is unmistakable and exhilarating. Slick, quick and light on its feet, this movie makes for some cool fun on a summer evening. *** S



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