Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

OUT OF SIGHT (1998) ** 1/2

Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Written by Scott Frank, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard. Photography, Elliot Davis. Editing, Ann V. Coates. Production design, Gary Frutkoff. Music, David Holmes. Cast: George Clooney (Jack Foley), Jennifer Lopez (Karen Sisco), Ving Rhames (Buddy Bragg), Don Cheadle (Maurice "Snoopy" Miller), Dennis Farina (Marshall Sisco), Albert Brooks (Richard Ripley), Steve Zahn (Glenn Michaels), Isaiah Washington (Kenneth), Luis Guzman (Chino), Catherine Keener (Adele), Keith Loneker (White Boy Bob), Nancy Allen (Midge), also Michael Keaton & Samuel L. Jackson. Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacy Sher. Executive producers, Barry Sonnenfeld, John Hardy. A Jersey film released by Universal. 120 minutes. R (language, violence, sex).
Some movie titles have a facile built-in zinger that can be used by reviewers who don't like the film. Here it would be "Out of Sight, Out of Mind." But so far as I know, there are hardly any critical put-downs.The picture is getting very good-to-excellent reactions. Yet so far as I am concerned, the Out of Mind bit does apply--but not as a would-be-scathing comment. Let me explain.

OOS is amusing and inventive, but at the same time, it moves in such a here-and-there, this-and-that fashion that I find it hard to replay it in my mind. Put it this way: it has not left in me any repercussions, the feeling that it is both "rememberable" and memorable. Rather, it is instant gratification. I do grant you that judgments on many a film become valid only after a second screening, but I've had no time to do this. When it does happen, the movie may go up a half-star, or down.

It opens with a tricky, clever and funny flashback. Simpatico George Clooney plays Jack Foley, an incorrigible bank robber. He works without weapons and apparently gets caught each time.Whether he is a dumb planner or an unlucky heister, is none too clear. I am intrigued by the name Foley. In the Beverly Hills Cop series, Eddie Murphy was Axel Foley. Except for their sense of humor, in many ways Jack the Robber is the opposite of Axel the Lawman.

Cut to Jack's current prison. Laid-back Foley and his buddy Buddy (sic) (Ving Rhames) break out. (The technicalities are not detailed as in traditional jailbreak flicks). In the process (don't ask) they kidnap US Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). A reference to Siskel and Ebert? To the Cisco Kid?

Buddy drives the getaway car, Karen and Jack, hidden in the trunk, have an amusing but unlikely flirtatious conversation -- the beginning of a beautiful affair in which Jack is after Karen romantically. She responds but is also professionally after Jack.

The source novel is by Elmore Leonard, whose idiosyncratic thrillers or action tales have hordes of admirers. Many of his books were made into films, including Jackie Brown, Get Shorty, Joe Kidd, Hombre, 52 Pick-up.Leonard has co-scripted some, also written original scenarios.

This picture is a big change in subject and style for director Soderbergh. After his first film ,Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) won the Golden Palm at Cannes, he became an instant "auteur" icon, a star among the avant-garde of the American New Wave cinema. Rather than go commercial, he went on to more or less low-budget "art" films. These did badly at the box-office and by many critics. Yet his Kafka is interesting, King of the Hill very good (and rather mainstreamish). The Underneath, Schizopolis, Gray's Anatomy, got him nowhere. Now, his decision to shift gears into full mainstream is paying off handsomely.

Out of Sight is certainly a mass-appeal movie. The plot is convoluted in a sometimes outlandish combination of Soderberghisms and Leonardisms. It certainly requires suspension of disbelief. In two hours, so much is thrown in that there's enough to feed two or three different films.The dialogue and the banter can sound outrageous but I sensed the planning and planting of colorfulness or cuteness in it.

It all feels like a hybrid: a tall tale for the majority of viewers, along with unexpected, even gratuitous, narrative and technical slants, sorties and sallies by the experimentalist who lies in Soderbergh's psyche. Absurdism, expressionism and filmic unorthodoxy may not be the film's main traits, yet they're still very much present. At times, those are welcome touches. At times they slow down the picture, interfere with its momentum, as in a sequence of the couple doing goo-goo eyes by a picture window, way up in a hotel bar. The rain outside is as phoney as any I've seen. But the excellent,entertaining acting of all involved is the movie's greatest asset.

Essentially OOS belongs to the familiar sub-genre of comedies about fumbling thieves or outlaws. It could have been worse. Or better.

" Le mauvais gout mene au crime" (Stendhal)

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Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel