For my money, the original Italian Job is perhaps one of the least interesting classic movies. It is certainly not without many iconic quotes and images; Minis, Michael Caine, buses over cliffs and blowing bloody doors off, but it's just a bit too flippant and silly to be a good thriller. Despite swapping Caine for Mark Wahlberg, one of the least charismatic actors working today (just stick him back in stretchy pants and let him do what he's good at), the remake is a much more interesting and excitingly staged thriller, with a fairly convincing computer based solution to creating the traffic jam through which the escape is made. It has moments of humour, but also some excellent car chases that avoid the kind of crushingly unconvincing CGI chase scenes that so often turn up these days.
The original has a funky Quincy Jones score, but the most famous musical trait is the delightfully retro song, Self Preservation Society (although, again, it is rather silly). The remake sports a surprisingly funky and non-generic action score by John Powell, which takes the better elements of his otherwise disappointing percussive effort for The Bourne Identity and adds a bit more orchestra (though no woodwind). The Opening Titles are a strong start, setting the tone from the outset. This is not a score strong on melody, but one of an increasing number that are exciting and enjoyable enough at the time, but largely difficult to recall afterward. The film's opening heist has the lion's share of fine moments, notably the breathless Boat Chase. Throughout Powell uses funky bass lines, slow strings and jazzy brass along with the percussion base that calls to mind Lalo Schifrin, or even Henry Mancini.
The middle tracks are perhaps less striking, but after the extremely introverted Bitter Suite, things hot up with the terrific The New Plan, where the swinging brass make for an inspired addition to pep up what would otherwise be a rather mundane action cue. Tunnel Run piles on some electric guitars, ramps up the bass, but still finds space for string riffs over the top, flipping rather wildly from night club to rock concert, but somehow hanging together. The general over the topness pushes through into Chopper Chase (not the scene's most plausible sequence, but surprisingly convincing at the time) and does threaten to go a bit too far, but is brief enough to get away with it. Golden ends in fine and funky style. Not as accomplished overall as the more recent Paycheck, The Italian Job is rather short on themes you can take away afterward, but still a bracing concoction that manages to be a good action/thriller without resorting to every Goldsmith cliché or a Media Ventures clone. Groovy.