CARS AND ROBBERY 

So: After the epic highway chase/fight scene in Matrix Reloaded, in which both good and bad guys just happen to be zooming around in brand-new Caddies, you thought you had seen
 
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Three stars of The Italian Job: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, and the Mini Cooper.
the most extravagant car commercial the silver screen had to offer this summer.

Not a chance. The Italian Job takes product placement to new lengths, starring not two but three Mini Coopers and keeping them onscreen for far more than just a chase scene or two. Hell, the characters even threaten to bring the things right into the house they plan to rob, just for good measure. We never actually get to see the Minis zip across parquet flooring, but that's about all they don't do here.

Like the smartly designed cars, the movie scratches a nostalgic itch without ever feeling stuck in the past. It's a revenge caper, pitting Mark Wahlberg and company against Edward Norton, who helped

 
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Three Mini Coopers are written large in the plot of The Italian Job.
them rob an extraordinary amount of gold in Venice only to pull a last-minute double-cross. In Venice, Norton does more than just take the loot; he creates a reason for straight-arrow citizen Charlize Theron to enter the criminal world, allowing her to show off some very fancy safe-cracking talents. Do all safe-crackers occasionally hone their skills while stripped down to a black bra? I don't remember Kirk Douglas doing it this way, but his Italian crimes took place in a different era.

Job delivers the joy of theft thrillingly, particularly in an opening sequence that makes full use of Venice's

The Italian Job
Dir. F. Gary Gray; writ. Donna & Wayne Powers; feat. Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green, Jason Statham, Mos Def, Donald Sutherland (PG-13)
canals. From there, it's straight into planning-the-big-job mode, made especially enjoyable here by charismatic sidemen - Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels' Statham charms the ladies, Green geeks out, and Mos Def talks about shoes. Wahlberg gets to stand around and laugh at people's jokes, and his disinclination to jump into action-hero mode reflects well on the film's sensibly restrained ambitions. It is possible that the follow-up adventure, which involves helicopters, motorcycles, and a subway train or two, goes on a beat or two too long; but after the bloated set pieces of the summer's other cinematic auto ad, The Italian Job feels as slick and economical as the cars at its heart. •


More by John DeFore

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