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I wouldn't blame you for avoiding this flick; George Clooney has proved himself box-office poison for years now (witness the idiotic "One Fine Day" or the unconscionably awful "Batman and Robin") and seemed to be locked into the shaky-head-down-look-up school of acting cutesy-ness. The problem was not that Clooney is an idiot, he's actually pretty damned funny and one of the raunchiest folks in Hollywood. If it weren't for him, you'd never have "South Park"—he was the one who discovered the infamous Xmas episode and disseminated it around Hollywood. Nope, the problem was that Clooney was too clever by half, and always looked like he was unsure what to do with himself in a dopey thriller like "The Peacemaker." Fortunately for him, scribe Elmore Leonard (who wrote "Get Shorty") still has a few great stories in him, and "Out of Sight" is the perfect vehicle. Clooney plays Jack Foley, a man who is smart enough to be a terrific bank robber, but not quite brilliant enough to escape capture.
While in prison, Foley befriends a wealthy businessman (Albert Brooks) who has a stash of diamonds hidden somewhere at his estate. Throw in a best friend (the always-enjoyable Ving Rhames) and an odd assortment of petty thieves and killers (Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn), and this thing plays like a Mamet thriller with the cojones Mamet never seems to have. Director Steven Soderbergh, with an uncharacteristic shift from his earlier work like "Sex, Lies and Videotape" includes just enough idiosyncrasies to make these characters spring to life. Even small cameos are richer than truffles.
But the best thing about "Out of Sight," thank God, is a true romance. Jennifer Lopez, as the FBI agent assigned to catch Clooney, delivers the best female performance of the year as Karen Sisco; her relationship with Foley is as achingly inevitable as it is irrational. So many times a movie will just assume that two leads like each other, you know, a couple of gettin'-to-know-ya montages and they're hitched, right? Soderbergh wisely lets these two simmer in a fine sauce with one another, their relationship deadly as sin but as simple as a high school crush. Lopez is tough without being bitchy, sensitive without being flaky.
When Clooney and Lopez share a scene in the trunk of a car, they discuss various movies, one of them being "Three Days of the Condor." "I never understood why Robert Redford liked Faye Dunaway so quickly," Lopez says, and the irony is not lost on either character, or us, for that matter. Soderbergh is one of the few directors who can wink at us without relinquishing the fantasy.
Our auteurs are hard to come by, and we usually want them in their distillate form—we turn to John Sayles for characters, James Cameron for spectacle, Woody Allen for dialogue, Scorsese for urban explosiveness and Hitchcock for a good thwack upside the head. Cheers to Steven Soderbergh for crossing genres with a fluidity and vernacular that most storytellers would be afraid to spin.
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