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The Italian Job (DVD)

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The 1969 caper comedy The Italian Job was not a hit upon its initial release, though it's steadily developed a cult following in Great Britain. But a recent explosion of stateside interest has spawned a successful American remake, a video-game adaptation, and a comeback for MINI Coopers. Now, the offshoots include a special-edition DVD of the original, equipped with several short documentaries, deleted scenes, and an audio commentary from producer Michael Deeley and The Making Of The Italian Job author Matthew Field. A massive improvement over the remake's uncharismatic Mark Wahlberg, Michael Caine stars as a crafty, impish career criminal whose swinging credentials are established by his itinerary upon leaving prison: a trip to his tailor, the recovery of his sports car, and a visit to a swanky hotel room filled with fetching women of ill repute. Caine then sets about orchestrating an ambitious heist involving millions in gold; a computer-engineered traffic jam; red, white, and blue MINI Coopers; fiercely patriotic, patrician crime boss Noel Coward (dripping aristocratic disdain in his final film role); and chubby-chasing computer genius Benny Hill. The Italian Job intriguingly marshals the contrasting talents of the legendarily droll Coward and the famously bawdy Hill, who by all rights should cancel each other out. But the historic meeting of the minds never materializes–the two titans of British comedy have no scenes together. Quirky casting and a hip Quincy Jones score help set The Italian Job apart, but the casting of the film's automobiles is arguably more integral to its success than the casting of its human characters. The MINI Cooper is a delightfully preposterous-looking vehicle, and the filmmakers ratchet up its ridiculousness by having it do things no car should. The Italian Job only begins to live up to its revered British reputation in its last half hour, when its scene-stealing cars take center stage in an exhilarating car chase that sends them racing through water and tunnels, and even up the roof of a building. As a comic heist film, The Italian Job is diverting, though slight. As a feature-length advertisement for the MINI Cooper, however, it's an unqualified triumph.