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The Italian Job

Somewhat frustrated by remakes and a little concerned that the heist genre might become overplayed, I had some initial reservations about going to see The Italian Job. Director F. Gary Gray had delivered with The Negotiator (and, in its own way, Friday) but he had also helmed the long-shelved Vin Diesel vehicle A Man Apart, so his involvement offered no net gain or loss in the confidence department.

Edward Norton, however, has never made a wrong choice. He's appeared in only two films that I haven't absolutely loved, and Fight Club doesn't count because I respect what an interesting film it is, I just outgrew it. The other one, American History X, just isn't the kind of thing I watch. (Plus, he directed one of my favorite comedies of the last ten years.) So, once I had seen the trailer (including the glamorously beautiful if somewhat less career-gifted Charlize Theron), I was thinking more positively. Besides, I realized, I love caper movies! So it's worth giving it a shot until such time as the genre is definitively out of fuel. Then I'll give up!

I'm glad I went. Despite complaints that the Mini chase has "been done," I found the street chase scenes to be exciting and their verité style fresh and interesting. The twists and tricks that the filmmakers and the characters have up their sleeves make for a fun ride and the personalities involved, particularly Norton, Theron, and supporting castmates Seth Green and Mos Def, deliver more than the typical caper experience. (Also, there's a scene at the Water Grill which is my favorite restaurant in L.A.!)

One thing struck me as the opening credits unfolded to the funky engaging beats of John Powell (The Bourne Identity – this guy knows his way around scoring a Mini chase!) – the adapted script was by Donna & Wayne Powers. This is the same couple whose new Showtime TV show Out Of Order had just started a week ago. If not for having reviewed that show, I wouldn't even have recognized their names. So, I thought "hm." When I got home I checked to be sure, and yep, the Powers were responsible for both. How about that? In my opinion the writing on The Italian Job was much better than that on Out Of Order, but still what a nice moment of synchronicity– what's that? As I scrolled down I noticed another writing credit for these two: Deep Blue Sea. Ordinarily, this would cause the bile in the back of anyone's throat to rise, so bad was Deep Blue Sea. I remember the Visual Effects Supervisor speaking in a film class once (he was there for another movie). When asked what else he was working on he referred to the project as "some Renny Harlin about psycho robot sharks. It's awful, just awful." But in my case, the fact that this pair was associated with Deep Blue Sea meant more than that.

See, one of the running gags in Out Of Order that I had felt was particularly clever was that people kept mentioning this one moment of the couple's bear movie. The protagonists are a husband and wife screenwriting team and the summer before they'd had a lot of success with a blockbuster popcorn movie about a bear. In some ways the ensuing catapult into Hollywood success was the driving force behind the events of the premiere episode. At any rate, it was clearly a very successful movie but not the type that writers are particularly proud of in terms of being insightful or thought-provoking. And so when people met them, they had to say something nice and so they all talked about this one moment. "When that black actor was mauled by the bear out of nowhere – man that got me!" or "When that African-American guy got attacked by the bear – wow!" Watching it, I thought "he he. They're comparing it to Deep Blue Sea where the only moment worthy of recall is when Samuel L. Jackson goes down in the middle of a long monologue. That's cute. That's a nice subtle Hollywood reference." But now all that is turned on its ear. They weren't making a perceptive reference to the Hollywood culture and the way screenwriters relate to films or the way everything in Hollywood is about your last project and because the standard Hollywood greeting is "I loved your..." it sometimes demands some creative effort designing a compliment when the last project wasn't particularly lovable. They were just parroting something that happened to them. Bad form.

So, the Powers are on my list. I'm watching another episode of Out Of Order because I've already TiVo'd it and Kim Dickens and Peter Bogdanovich make me squeal with glee. But after that, I'm cutting them off. "I loved your show and how you made such incisive statements about Hollywood culture" was good but "I loved your rip-off of your own bad experiences related to your own bad script" doesn't really hold water.

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