Twenty years after remaking The Italian Job as a slice of pleasant (if disposable) studio gloss, F. Gary Gray has gone ahead and remade it again for the age of Netflix streaming content. Which might be a nicer way of saying the streaming service’s new weekend release of Lift is another harmless, unthreatening time-filler intended to be watched with a second screen in your hand or folded laundry in your lap.
Once again revolving around an affable assemblage of movie stars (Kevin Hart subbing in for Mark Wahlberg as the miscast straight man) and character actors who compose a crew of thieves out “to do a job” in Venice, Lift is designed to faintly echo older, better movies you’ve seen before, including from the director’s own back catalog. It’s junk you’re expected to forget while the thing is still buffering.
But that doesn’t mean everyone is having a bad time. Heck, we suspect Jean Reno was living his best life while picking up a paycheck for what appeared to be a few days’ worth of work. To be sure, the esteemed French thespian is barely in the movie. Showing up briefly at the 30-minute mark to order a guy be fed to dogs (a la The Dark Knight) and then not appearing again until the third act where he twirls his mustache almost entirely over Zoom—ordering his minions around from afar—the role probably took up a week of Reno’s time.
But what a week it must have been!
We’re told onscreen that he is nesting at his villa in Tuscany, which is probably the most recognizable name to many Americans for pastoral Italian bliss. In actuality though, the scenes Reno is in were filmed at Miramare Castle on the Gulf of Trieste, a region in Northern Italy bordering Croatia and along the Adriatic Sea. But be it Tuscany, Trieste, or Casterly Rock, the point is Reno was living the good life while sipping vino and looking peppy before being occasionally asked to scowl into the camera and recite some banal lines that would’ve sounded trite 30 years ago on a Steven Siegel straight-to-VHS thriller.
Reno’s apparent working vacation sums up everything theoretically appealing and truthfully dispiriting about so many Netflix original movies. These are “content” projects conceived to appeal to an algorithm convinced that each movie must look like another movie the viewer has already watched back when they at least faintly cared what was on their screen. So, yes, Lift rips off The Italian Job and Ocean’s Eleven (Clooney’s, not Sinatra’s), with a little bit of Fast & Furious’ platitudes about found family sprinkled on top as Hart does his best impression of Vin Diesel monotone. A cynic might even wonder if Jacob Batalon was cast for a cameo in the film’s opening Venetian sequence because someone figured it might trigger subconscious memories of that time Batalon’s Ned Leeds went on a European holiday to Venice with the Web-Head in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
It’s all empty calories meant to be consumed by viewers who can live vicariously through the characters’ apparent luxury. Of course Hollywood has been indulging in those pampered idles for a hundred years. The whole appeal of Shirley Temple and Fred Astaire during the Great Depression was pretending you too were on a madcap Manhattan weekend or a night on the town, complete with top hat and cane. And 20 years ago, it could still be serviceably amusing as Charlize Theron and Jason Statham bantered over Mini Coopers.
Yet it seems somehow evermore cynical and perfunctory on a streaming service which isn’t even attempting to hold your attention for 90 minutes; it’s just trying to feed you a bit of visual dopamine in the moments you look away from your text messages or a friend’s Instagram story. Are they in Italy too? The whole endeavor doesn’t have enough self-respect to even bother entertaining itself.
Still, for the cast and crew, getting to go to Venice, and London, and Trieste, or wherever the hell Reno got to play the high roller while letting the Italian surf roll in, had to be fun. You might even say they pulled the ultimate lift job by getting a streamer with deep pockets to pay for it. Meanwhile we’re left watching them with folded socks.
Lift is out now on Netflix.