Out of Sight
Director: Steven Soderbergh. Cast: George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn, Albert Brooks, Dennis Farina, Catherine Keener, Nancy Allen. Screenplay: Scott Frank (based on the novel by Elmore Leonard).

Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight is a neat little flibbertigibbet of a movie, a little more of a Rubik's cube than the material probably demands, but a fun excursion into '70s cool from a director who has often been accused—sometimes fairly, sometimes not—of perpetrating a coolness of a whole different sort. George Clooney stars as Jack Foley, a hair-swept-back, well cufflinked bank robber who seems a little like Vincent Vega as played by Cary Grant. Foley's been in and out of jail more than a few times, but compared to how many busts he's pulled off (numbered by one character at around 200), he's a well-established model of suave criminal efficiency.

Plus he's just so damn cute, which is why Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), a federal marshall who happens to be standing outside the fence where Jack has dug his latest under-the-prison escape tunnel, suddenly can't find it in herself to clock and cuff the guy like she would any other jailbreak. Instead, she finds herself crammed with Jack into the trunk of Ving Rhames' getaway car. The two of them talk about bank robbing methodologies and Faye Dunaway movies in such close succession that you can feel Scott Frank's normally jaunty script striving a little self-consciously for that junk-culture hipster speak that, rightly or wrongly, will ever after be credited as Quentin Tarantino's invention.

For the rest of the movie, Karen and Jack will stare at each other (well, figuratively) from their opposite sides of the Cops 'n' Robbers divide, wondering what would have happened in an alternate universe where they could doff all this criminal prosecution stuff and spend a late morning in bed. Lopez and Clooney were similarly situated before this film as smoldering film stars waiting to happen, and Out of Sight finally manages to break them both wide open as swoon-worthy stars, not just decoration. Clooney stops tipping his head at all angles to prove his points, and Lopez gets to be more than the siren who makes men do bad things. They're both just terrific, and they demonstrate their subtle, potent talents by making their conversation scenes as electric and engaging as the inevitable and heavily-advertised roll in the hay.

Unfortunately, the main vectors of the plot—whether Karen will track down Jack and his fugitive buddies and what she/they will do if she does—keep the narrative idling in essentially the same neutral zone that Sleepless in Seattle occupied for a full albeit far less crackling two hours: when will these lovebirds finally get a chance to sit down and really meet? Put shortly, Out of Sight has sparks aplenty, but it doesn't really go anywhere; Lopez and Clooney, for all their virtues, also don't have the depth of experience as actors or characters that Pam Grier and Robert Forster shared in Jackie Brown, another Elmore Leonard adaptation with more heft and sincere emotion than this one has.

Almost certainly wise to that shortcoming, Soderbergh fills out his cast with vivid character actors and generously affords them all plenty of time and space to strut their stuff. In addition to Rhames, whose rising celebrity is a well-deserved joy to watch, Steve Zahn (the coming-out pal in Reality Bites) and Don Cheadle (Boogie Nights' porn star-turned-retail king) nimbly portray a dopehead and hothead, respectively, who diversely involve themselves in the diamond heist that Clooney and Rhames have engineered as their reunion gig.

The last few scenes of Out of Sight are real pistol-packers, springing agilely between suspense to soft comedy, but the picture doesn't linger long in the memory; I felt the same to be true of Soderbergh's 1989 Cannes champ sex, lies, and videotape, although his 1993 Depression-era fable King of the Hill—no, not the series!—only gets better as time passes. Then again, you'll probably never get two people who agree point for point on the comparative merits of each and every Soderbergh picture. What we've got here is a scintillating romantic face-off that is slightly less than the sum of its sparkling parts—a pleasurable and genial jewel-heist tale that itself is just shy of being a real gem. Grade: B

Academy Award Nominations:
Best Adapted Screenplay: Scott Frank
Best Film Editing: Anne V. Coates

Other Awards:
Writers Guild of America: Best Adapted Screenplay
National Society of Film Critics: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Screenplay
Boston Society of Film Critics: Best Picture

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