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Out of Sight

Review: 'Out of Sight' is exactly that

Web posted on: Thursday, July 02, 1998 4:45:54 PM EDT

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- We've got a long way to go - and Steven Spielberg's highly-anticipated Normandy epic, "Saving Private Ryan," is finally visible on the horizon - but, for the time being, Steven Soderbergh's "Out of Sight" is easily the best film I've seen in 1998.

Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Frank have adapted Elmore Leonard's cult novel in a witty, fast-paced manner that suggests a less-cartoony version of Frank's other successful Leonard adaptation, 1995's "Get Shorty." Like that previous effort, "Out of Sight" is full of sharp dialogue and slightly-cockeyed stereotypes, but the real driving force here is plain old, red-blooded movie star charisma.

Clip: "Jailbreak"
1.8Mb QuickTime movie

Entire theatrical trailer
6.8Mb QuickTime movie

Soderbergh's savvy

The film is quick, funny, and very, very sexy. Soderbergh (who's best known for "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," though he's been churning out savvy movies for nearly a decade now) has an eye on the conventions of those 1970s crime capers that I'm continually citing as prime examples of the American cinema's not-so-distant Good Old Days. His approach to the material, though, isn't comprised of an empty, "Jackie Brown"-ish string of fondly-remembered moments from the past. It's no small accomplishment that Soderbergh's work is stylish without turning cartwheels or becoming too knowingly "we are the hip." Nowadays, that's an extremely rare and laudable thing when it comes to big, fat, commercial movies.

George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez star as wildly attractive people, the kind who practically everybody in North America either wants to look like or sleep with. That, of course, is why they're movie stars and not working at the 7-11. Oh, yeah, Clooney plays Jack Foley, an escaped bank robber, and Lopez is U.S. Marshall Karen Sisco, who's attempting to bring Foley to justice, but maybe not, because the two have developed the hots for each other. And, as I've already suggested, you can't really blame them. My favorite of the two, sheerly by virtue of personal sexual orientation, would be Lopez, but Clooney is the next best thing to Steve McQueen, and even I can verify that the guy's steamier than a Calliope.

The plot

What happens is, Jack and a couple of unsavory prison-mates tunnel out of a Florida penitentiary one night, just as Karen, armed to the teeth with a pump shotgun and nerves of steel, is pulling up in her car. All hell breaks loose as the guards in the tower open fire, but Jack and his accomplice, Buddy (Ving Rhames, solid as always), manage to wrestle Karen into the trunk, then Jack climbs in to keep her quiet, and, hopefully, get himself smuggled as far away from the prison as possible.

The ensuing sequence, in which Clooney and Lopez unexpectedly warm up to each other in a prone position, beneath the occasional red glow of a set of brake lights, is a first-class piece of character development. It's not all that believable, of course, but the good humor of the situation, in which the long-celibate Jack makes a big point of not groping his overripe trunk-mate's overripe trunk, is funny and, ultimately, quite tender. It's a fun scene, and you know exactly what Soderbergh is up to movie-wise, when the two eventually strike up a conversation about their favorite films.

Lopez's character can't believe what's happening to her, but is nonetheless charmed while Clooney sweetly waxes on about "Bonnie and Clyde," "Network," and "Three Days of the Condor." We're being reminded that we're watching a movie, but that's the last overt declaration of the idea that Soderbergh bothers to insert into the story. Again, much to his credit.

Worth mentioning

I don't want to ruin any prime jokes by divulging the reasons, but Lopez is eventually driven away from a lonely stretch of highway by Jack's pot-head accomplice, Glenn (the hilariously confused Steve Zahn), leaving Jack and Buddy stranded in the darkness. The story careens into several different areas as Jack tries to escape capture and possibly get his hands on an old prison buddy's collection of un-cut diamonds, but he can't keep himself from pursuing Karen, who he's managed to fall in love with. Karen, on the other hand, is pursuing Jack, partly because it's her job, and partly because she, too, wouldn't mind a little more close contact, this time involving some booze and a bed.

There are funky, funny performances to spare, so many that a list is actually in order:

-- Dennis Farina as Karen's dad, a former cop who buys his daughter a beautiful new hand gun as a sentimental present, and later encourages her to follow her heart's desire when it seems that she may end up aiding and abetting a fugitive.

-- Don Cheadle as Snoopy, one of the escapees. Cheadle alternates between brutal single-mindedness and an amusing bent towards too much ambition in the caper department. It's a tricky, intimidating performance worthy of a supporting actor Oscar nomination.

-- Albert Brooks as Richard Ripley, a billionaire with a big mouth who's doing time in prison for insider trading, spending his days talking to all the wrong people about all the wrong things. The scene in which cell block leader Snoopy threatens him into paying $500 for a smuggled-in down pillow, followed by Clooney's unexpected attack on Snoopy's henchman, is a gem.

-- And, last but not least, former NFL offensive guard Keith Loneker as White Boy Bob, a 300-pound arm-breaker who's propensity towards falling down at inopportune moments eventually saves Jack from a very nasty end.

See it

I had a great time with this movie, mainly because it's sophisticated without congratulating itself too much for that shocking accomplishment. What's especially intriguing, and nice to see, is the almost school-boyish quality that Clooney conveys when it comes to his ill-advised longing for Lopez.

Please believe me for once and start lining up.

"Out of Sight" contains bad language and one instance of shocking violence. There's movie-style sex, but no nudity, although I would encourage Lopez, in particular, to pursue that sort of thing in the future. Only if it's dramatically motivated, of course. Rated R. 110 minutes.

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