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Review: "Out of Sight"

July 01, 1998|By JASON MYERS

Jason Myers

Watching "Out of Sight" Monday was my first blockbuster experience of the summer.

I recently started work at a Blockbuster video, and I have seen the mean, mindless monolith "Godzilla," but I had not yet been to a theater quite like the one I attended in Ormond Beach, Fla.

With a frontispiece as ornate and overwhelming as an entrance to a theme park, I felt as if I were entering not a movie theater, but a house of worship. (I have been worshipping cinema for a long time, but only then did I feel obliged.) It was, alas, one of the new Meccas for movies, a cineplex with stadium seating and surround sound.

Let me tell you, friends: There is no other way to see a movie. Images are but a part of modern motion pictures - and while many movies favor images over words, consider that the best films come from the best screenplays - and at most theaters they glimmer on the screen of average size, and you hear a faint whisper of sound and dialogue. In MeccaMoviehouses (bear with me) you are engaged in cinema as an experience - as an Event, hence blockbuster.

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"Out of Sight" is a perfect summer movie.

Adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel by screenwriter Scott Frank ("Get Shorty") and director Steven Soderbergh ("sex, lies, and videotape") is a sexy, sumptuous tale of crooks and cops. It is swift without being slick, and elegant while maintaining most of the grit of Leonard's pursed prose.

The film begins with Jack Foley (George Clooney) casually, charmingly - in Leonard novels, criminals always have more grace than the average person - robbing a bank. No mask, no gun. Just a pleasant, polite withdrawal.

Jack would be the consummate thief - if only his car would start. So he goes back to the prison from which he recently emerged.

Until, of course, he escapes, aided and abetted and amused by his partner, Buddy, (Ving Rhames) as well as a new paramour, federal agent Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). Buddy disarms her, literally, and Jack disarms her, figuratively.

Jack and Karen are thrown into a trunk and thrown into the most unusual, unpredictable and altogether satisfying romance of the year. They quickly begin conversing about movies - probably the usual topic in trunk talk.

Jack and Buddy are planning their last larceny - stealing diamonds from a billionaire (Albert Brooks) who was in prison with them.

If Karen were an average agent, she would restore these two gentlemen to their former place of residence before they have opportunity to commit anything else. But the world of Elmore Leonard is not an average world.

Leonard is like David Mamet on Prozac. His guys talk tough, but there is also suppleness and sweetness to their character which Mametian men utterly lack. Leonard also favors folks with quirks. So Jack's ex-wife (Catherine Keener) is a magician's assistant, and the billionaire he robs keeps only toupees in his safe. Not nearly plausible, not completely convincing, "Out of Sight" is a movie made with insight and energy.

Soderbergh has not had rhythm this rich since his debut. He creates an elliptical chronology that shows us the thoughts and experiences of the characters with a more complete sensibility than a straightforward narrative would. He also develops a clear contrast between the florid tones of Florida, where most of the movie is set, and the dark hues of Detroit, where the characters head for the heist; and he uses a varied palette within each location.

Best of all, he balances the brilliant ensemble. You will not see a finer assortment of acting than the "Out of Sight"cast provides. Clooney is clearly the lead, and he controls the character masterfully, connecting Jack's charisma to his confusion; he and Lopez have a loose, lyrical chemistry that the actress intensifies with her intelligent beauty. Don Cheadle delivers a formidable uppercut as a boxer-turned-gangster, and Steve Zahn elicits laughs as well as concern for his pothead, motormouth crook.

The soundtrack shuffles the movie forward on a series of funky grooves. "Out of Sight" deserves repeated viewing: to appreciate the visual texture and freeze-frames of Soderbergh, to admire the verve, wit and fidelity of Frank's script, to adore the way Ving Rhames continues to be so cool; but, most of all, to worship the ways of movies and movie theaters.

Jason Myers is a 1998 graduate of North Hagerstown High School.

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