By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight is a sexy, funny, cool breeze of a film, the kind of effortless Hollywood entertainment we haven't seen much of since Cary Grant got old. The source of this skewed romantic comedy - don't let the gun in the poster fool you - is a by-the-numbers Elmore Leonard best-seller that was published in 1996 to all the usual hoopla. Critics larded praise on the book, but what they were really extolling was Leonard himself, a durable, diverting crime novelist whose best work was written 25 years ago. Out of Sight is second-rate Leonard, but it has a nice cast of his by-now familiar idiosyncratic losers and a genuinely offbeat central female character - Karen Sisco, a federal marshal who favors Chanel suits and carries a Sig Sauer .38. Her dad calls her "the tough babe."
The story kicks in with a man yanking his tie off and throwing it to the ground before crossing the street to rob a bank. The robbery goes smoothly, but the engine of his derelict getaway car floods. When next we see him, Jack Foley (George Clooney), getting tired somewhere in his mid-to-late 30s, is in the middle of an escape from the medium-security prison where he's meant to be doing 30 to life. Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) first meets Jack when she stumbles across the prison break. The next thing the marshal knows, she's spooning with the con in the trunk of her car and talking about Robert Redford movies, "when he was young." Jack ruins Karen's suit (he's covered in sludge after tunneling to freedom), sparks fly; she pulls a gun on him, bullets fly. The remainder of the movie is essentially con finds girl, girl hunts con down, girl finds con, or maybe he finds her.
Perhaps it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the director of sex, lies and videotape has made the sexiest film since The Year of Living Dangerously, but Soderbergh's first film (eager Laura San Giacomo notwithstanding) finally seemed too committed to onanism to make its romantic couplings very convincing. Sex is usually bad in movies (especially when it's supposed to be "good"), but it isn't always the fault of the director. When it comes to movie coitus these days, most stars appear as if they'd rather be holding a mirror in bed instead of a partner. Lopez and Clooney, who seem too beautiful to generate heat, really do look like they want to devour one another; they're a wildly sexy match. Lopez, whose spectacular ass juts out as expressively as her swollen mouth, is terrific. Clooney, who's failed to convince in movies until now (he was charmingly facile in One Fine Day), here lowers his voice, affects a prison-yard lope and taps into some soul. He still relies on too many facial tics, but with time he could be a star.
There's something wonderfully unhip, even old-fashioned about Soderbergh's emphasis on romance rather than sex (Jack and Karen do get together, but not in the way you'd expect), and the way he plays down the story's violence. There's a surprising scene toward the end when Jack picks up a gun for the first time and shoots another man dead, but not before someone else has thrown a blanket over the guy, saving us from the sight of another movie corpse riddled with spent squibs. What's startling isn't the death, but the delivery. Not that Soderbergh shies away from splatter; in the same scene, a bad guy blows his own head off, and the violence is so absurd, so unlikely (a Three Stooges moment, really) that there's a level of pathos to it: It's a ridiculous death for a ridiculous man.
There's a kind of morality here, but it has less to do with Soderbergh's personal beliefs (or worse, some sort of code about the righteousness of gangsters) than a respect for the audience. What I love most about this film is the way it never condescends to us, infantilizing us with brute images and unsparing, wall-to-wall noise. Its shocks aren't delivered through amped-up sound, strobe edits and well-choreographed mayhem, but through fleshed-out, quixotic characters whose individuality isn't a matter of cute quirks but of spot-on dialogue and glittering performances. Clooney and Lopez are perfect for their roles; they gleam with the sort of movie-star luster that makes them irresistible. They're also surrounded by a supporting cast that makes them look even better: Don Cheadle as a scary crook called Snoopy; Isaiah Washington as Snoopy's even scarier brother-in-law, Kenneth; Steve Zahn as a doper ex-con named Glenn; Albert Brooks, almost unrecognizable, as a Michael Milken type; and, in a wonderful, ingratiating turn, Chameleon Street director Wendell B. Harris Jr. as an FBI agent aptly named Burdon.
Most movies these days try to knock us over the head with self-importance. Out of Sight creeps up, stealthlike, easing along on its impeccable craft and scenes so well tuned you don't even register how often the time-line kinks between the past and the present. (The screenwriter is the gifted Scott Frank, who also adapted Leonard's Get Shorty for the screen.) This isn't a profound film, or even an important one, but then it isn't trying to be; it's so diverting and so full of small, satisfying pleasures, you don't realize how good it is until after it's over.
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