June 26, 1998
'Out of Sight': A Thief, a Marshal, an Item
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By JANET MASLIN
n the prologue to "Out of Sight" George Clooney is seen robbing a bank. And it's a miracle that the teller doesn't thank him. As the suavest-looking thief since Cary Grant played cat burglar on the Riviera, Clooney stares at her meaningfully, half-smiling, as he sweet-talks his way through the crime.
His character, Jack Foley, is a consummate charmer, but he is about to meet his match in the voluptuous form of a federal marshal named Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). As directed with terrific panache by Steven Soderbergh, these two sultry stars take an intricate Elmore Leonard crime tale and give it steam heat.
As Leonard told Movieline magazine with typical dead-on simplicity: "You put Jennifer Lopez in it, that's going to make it sexy." He should know: it was he who contrived a way to lock Jack and Karen in a car trunk together before this story even gets going, and to make the most of their mutual, possibly fatal, attraction.
It was also Leonard who came up with this book's vivid rogues' gallery, with a dozen colorful supporting roles that have been cast here to wicked perfection. The film includes a couple of unbilled stars and saves its credits for the final reel. This makes for many a nice surprise as each of these flamboyant minor figures barges into the story.
For Soderbergh, whose most accessible films have been "Sex, Lies and Videotape" and "King of the Hill," "Out of Sight" is a departure into markedly commercial material. And he makes it work like a dream.
The hard-boiled beauty of the cinematography (by Elliot Davis, who has shot three previous Soderbergh films) brings out the story's own innate color and creates a warmly inviting backdrop for the central star-crossed romance. The film's sleek moodiness and visual sophistication are so effective that there's even a scene here that makes Detroit look like the most romantic city in the world.
The action starts in Florida, where Jack has been jailed after hitting a glitch during that bank robbery. (The getaway car wouldn't go.) Feeling correctly that he is not made for prison life, Jack involves himself in an escape scheme that also involves Buddy (Ving Rhames), his longtime pal and confidant.
Though everyone in the story has an Achilles' heel, Buddy's is best: he has a habit of confessing his transgressions to his sister, who is a nun. And the nun has a habit of turning Buddy in.
It happens that Karen is on assignment near the prison, and when she sees the breakout, she gets ready to shoot. So Buddy stuffs her into his car trunk, where Jack is also hidden, and a funny thing happens: a first date.
Locked in these red-lit close quarters, the two make small talk about movies and other matters, and each is strangely smitten when the ride is over. For the rest of this delicately poised story, Karen daydreams about Mr. Wrong while Jack wonders exactly how dangerous Karen is to his health.
Like "Get Shorty," "Out of Sight" has been adapted with deftness and fidelity by Scott Frank, who knows exactly how to translate Leonard's narrative voice to the screen. This is not an attention-getting feat, since both films so smoothly resemble the books on which they are based, but it's much subtler than it may appear.
Frank works in all the requisite smart lines and small nuances, and the story has been modified only where it needed changing most: in a climactic crime sequence that sent the novel off on a nihilistic note. Without sacrificing this episode, the film manages to end with a fine little cameo appearance and a secret smile.
The film's major supporting performers, including Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Steve Zahn and Isaiah Washington, are uniformly savvy. (For the sake of surprise, let's leave it at that.)
And the movie benefits from presenting more of an ethnic mix than the book did. The formerly blond and coltish Karen, for instance, now looks like a younger sister to Jackie Brown. Ms. Lopez has her best movie role thus far, and she brings it both seductiveness and grit; if it was hard to imagine a hard-working, pistol-packing bombshell on the page, it couldn't be easier here.
The casting of Clooney also departs from the book, since Jack Foley on the page is seasoned and sad-eyed, reminding other characters of Harry Dean Stanton. Clooney, who like Ms. Lopez makes the most of a splendid opportunity here, won't be reminding anyone of Stanton at all. Soderbergh plays some graceful time tricks with these two by sometimes letting their daydreams anticipate their long-overdue real romance.
"Out of Sight" relies on top-flight technical contributions from the production designer Gary Frutkoff (who did "Devil in a Blue Dress"), the editor Anne Coates (who won an Oscar for "Lawrence of Arabia") and the costume designer Betsy Heimann.
Ms. Heimann's like-minded credits include "Get Shorty," "Reservoir Dogs," "Jerry Maguire" and "Pulp Fiction," and one of her main contributions to posterity may be putting Ms. Lopez in a black leather trench coat here.
This film winds up as reminiscent of "Pulp Fiction" as it is of other first-rate Elmore Leonard adaptations, what with its big cast, bold use of color and generally hip, wary tone. The production company Jersey Films ("Reality Bites," "Pulp Fiction," "Get Shorty," "Gattaca") once again shows off its shrewd cutting edge.
"Out of Sight" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It includes profanity, violence and sexual situations staged without nudity.
OUT OF SIGHT
Directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by Scott Frank, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard; director of photography, Elliot Davis; edited by Anne Coates; music by Cliff Martinez; costume designer, Betsy Heimann; production designer, Gary Frutkoff; produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 120 minutes.
WITH: George Clooney (Jack Foley), Jennifer Lopez (Karen Sisco), Ving Rhames (Buddy Bragg), Don Cheadle (Maurice Miller), Dennis Farina (Marshall Sisco), Albert Brooks (Richard Ripley), Steve Zahn (Glenn Michaels) and Isaiah Washington (Kenneth).