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Mon, Feb. 24

'The Italian Job' low on violence, high on entertaining action<BR>

"The Italian Job" is about thieves stealing gold from other people and, ultimately, from themselves.

It's hard for me to find thieves admirable (thesaurus synonyms are, "scum, low-class people, riff-raff and rabble) with perhaps only honor between themselves – but then again, maybe not.

As a half dozen thieves who've just pulled The Italian Job, a major heist, are gloating about their take, one of their number, Steve Frezelli (Edward Norton), double-crosses them and makes off with $35 million in gold bars.

From there on, it's a revenge movie, plain and simple, though the thieving now has a conscionable cause.

The head of the vengeance group is nice-guy Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg), along with buddies Lyle (Seth Green), the computer nerd; Left Ear (Mos Def), a demolition expert; and Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), whose job is more elusive.

Backlit and looking like "The Invincibles," they set off to track down Steve and retrieve the gold.

(And you can forget Mark Wahlberg as the hunk. He's overshadowed by Statham).

Good for a laugh are the mini flashbacks showing how each got into their (criminal) field of expertise, often as children.

The beautiful Stella Bridger (Charlize Theron), whose father John was killed in the double-cross, joins the retaliation team.

Her particular skill comes in more than handy: safe-cracking, which she inherited from her father, but used in a law enforcement venue as a "professional safe and bolt" person.

Stella's cocky about her abilities and drives like a madwoman in her little red Mini Cooper, also a skill that serves the group well down the road.

In fact, the rest of the gang adopts Mini Coopers to serve as the red, white and blue getaway cars. A truly awesome scene is in the subway and sewers as the toy-like Minis speed through tunnels chased by motorcycles and a helicopter. The Indie 500 couldn't be more exciting.

My prediction is that almost everybody who sees this movie is going to want a little English Mini Cooper – originally designed as a race car in 1961 – if they didn't before. (The 2002 models are reasonably affordable at a cost of $17,000 to $20,000).

The rest of the movie is fast-paced and clever.

Technology makes it ever so much more interesting, too, as Lyle hacks into the Los Angeles traffic light system to waylay an armored car. That certainly wasn't part of the 1969 Michael Caine movie of the same name that inspired this non-cloned remake.

Refreshingly, "The Italian Job" has virtually no blood or visible violence, though some nastiness that does crop up is handled discreetly. The language is not too bad and there is absolutely no sex and few innuendoes.

F. Gary Gray directed "The Italian Job," and it's a light-duty comedy compared to his recent "A Man Apart," with Vin Decil, a bloody, violent flick about the war on drugs.

It was nice to see Donald Sutherland briefly as the thieves' "brilliant master planner."

"The Italian Job" is a sleek testosterone (girls have a bit, too, you know) flick with a sense of humor, cool guys, a gorgeous chick, lots of action and an easy-to-follow plot.

A just-for-fun adrenaline kick.

It's a Paramount Pictures release, rated PG-13 for violence and some language. Running time: 110 minutes.

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