For some (particularly American?) reason much has been made of the fact that F. Gary Gray, a known African American, has directed a caper flick, "The Italian Job," primarily starring white people.
Trust me, while watching the flick you cannot tell whether Gray has dreadlocks, a shaved head, or the chemical look without the chemicals. Neither can you tell whether he has the radiant ebony skin of some Africans or the cocoa complexion of others.
Perhaps his race is irrelevant. Ya think?
What is not irrelevant is Gray's substitution of a bunch of quasi Bond nonsense for a genuine caper film. Boo! Hiss!
I love great caper flicks because they keep you on the edge of your seat. Who's doing what to whom? Will they get away with it? How are they going to overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against them?
In the case of true caper flicks we're talking heart-pounding tension. Though Gray employs a kickin' sound track to get your heart pounding, it is the music that moves us, not the unfolding events. By definition the film ceases to be a caper flick and becomes a music video.
Care for another example? Early in the film the delicious Charlize Theron No, this isn't sexist. Trust me when I tell you she was not employed for her acting craft. is shown effortlessly breaking into a safe.
Though said to be virtually impregnable Stella (Theron) accomplishes the task in moments. Immediately any concerns regarding what formidable challenges may await our curvaceous safecracker are undermined by this ambience of flawless competence.
Whatever it is that Stella will be called upon to accomplish, no matter how difficult the task, there is no doubt she will do it with panache and nary a trickle of perspiration.
Caper flicks are supposed to make you squirm. In this case, why should you?
The same undermining of the film's tension applies to its other main characters as well. Wahlberg's Charlie Croker is extolled by his mentor (played by Donald Sutherland) for having executed the perfect heist.
Where is there room for squirming when confronted by perfection? Unfortunately, the answer is that for those enamored of caper flicks perfection itself induces squirming for the anxiety induced by the possibility of failure or capture is absent.
Similar to the issue of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, "The Italian Job" inadvertently poses the question, how many perfect beings can belong to the same criminal organization?
Charlie and Stella are not alone. Lyle (Seth Green) is the consummate computer geek. So clich? is this character that like every other film featuring the archetype, first his boss poses the insurmountable problem, then the camera focuses first upon his fingers whizzing over the keyboard, then his ear-to-ear grin, and finally upon a graphic example of his glorious accomplishment. Nope, no squirming here.
You think there's a cop in the universe that can drive as fast or overtake the elusive Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), the crew's getaway driver? "Lighten up!" you say. "It's just a feel-good flick."
True, but there are limits to such indulgences.
How about when the crew needs access to a vehicle driven by a comely young thing. Handsome Rob walks over to talk with her and moments later we see him climbing out of her bed.
Folks, every guy dreams this sort of thing is possible; that's the purpose of a dream life. There is no tension in this sort of dream.
These are the major complaints. There's lots of little stuff, nit-picky stuff, as well.
Though zooming around in tweaked, brightly colored Mini Coopers with a ton of precious metal in each of their trunks, the cars are shown to land nose first after leaping over a bump. Once again, because the laws of physics do not apply credibility is lost.
Another example? In one scene Los Angeles is shown to be so paralyzed by gridlock that every driver is standing beside his or her motionless car in various stages of outrage. The plot requires this.
The next moment guys on motorcycles are shown tearing up the very same streets between the cars, their automobile's drivers are suddenly collectively seated and their doors conveniently closed. The plot requires this too.
This is stupid. The movie is stupid.
On top of this, Wahlberg can't act, Theron can't act, Green can't act, and Statham can't act. They have been chosen because their faces or personas represent youthful abandon or beauty or both.
The film's targeted demographic, a music video audience, is provided an opportunity to live vicariously through these two-dimensional characters and will no doubt find the film rewarding therefore.
Conversely, in addition to Donald Sutherland, Edward Norton and Mos Def can act. They're in it too. They are not called upon to act. Perhaps the director thought it might embarrass the others.
To his credit, it appears Wahlberg has spent a couple of days in acting class for at one point he evinces an emotion. The same may be said of Theron. At different times it is possible to tell each of them feels sad.
Upon departing fans of the genre will feel cheated, and not because the director is black but because there is more to a caper film than bright colors, devil-may-care attitudes and snappy stunts.
Celluloid memories: Donald Sutherland was in one of the great caper flicks of all time: "Kelly's Heroes" (1970), directed by Brian G. Hutton. Like "The Italian Job," there's a safe full of gold bullion that our guys seek to possess but unlike the current film Kelly's crew is maximally flawed. In addition to Sutherland, the players in this at times very funny and at other times very tense film include Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Carroll O'Connor, Stuart Margolin, and Harry Dean Stanton. More recently Phil Alden directed "Sneakers" (1992) starring Robert Redford, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell, River Phoenix, Sidney Poitier, David Strathairn, and James Earl Jones. There's a super secret computer gizmo that everybody wants. There's lots of tension and lots of laughs. It's a caper flick done right.