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'Out of Sight': Everything Is All Right

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 26, 1998

  Movie Critic

Out of Sight
Ving Rhames and George Clooney plan a diamond heist in "Out of Sight." (Universal)

Steven Soderbergh
George Clooney;
Jennifer Lopez;
Ving Rhames;
Dennis Farina;
Don Cheadle;
Albert Brooks;
Steve Zahn;
Catherine Keener
Running Time:
2 hours, 9 minutes
Profanity; shootings; a stabbing and fistfight; mangled goldfish; implied sex
This just in: Limp-necked "E.R." star George Clooney has been cured of the degenerative muscular disease that prevented him from holding his head up straight. In "Out of Sight," a droll and beguiling adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, Clooney for once stands erect, looks into the camera, proves he can act.

Apparently, somebody finally told him to lose that cheesy come-hither look perfected over four seasons as TV's sly and sexy Dr. Doug Ross and in a handful of lackluster film roles as roguish charmers. Although in "Out of Sight" Clooney still occasionally peers seductively from beneath those devilishly handsome eyebrows, he is more forthright and upstanding than ever-but no less unctuous-as Jack Foley, bank robber par excellence. In over 200 heists, the consummate schmoozer has never had to use a gun. As he explains it, most people are all too willing to give you money, "if you ask in the right way."

Jack may be good at what he does, but he's not perfect. In fact, he's spent a heck of a lot of time in jail, most recently in Florida's Glades Correctional Institution. That wasn't his fault though. In his haste to get away, he flooded the engine of his beat-up Honda, allowing the authorities time to arrest him. Don't you hate it when that happens?

Jack is just one of a dozen enormously appealing personalities in "Out of Sight," a character driven vehicle about one man's efforts to stay out of jail while continuing to break the law. The movie's main charm lies in its array of quintessentially Elmore Leonard oddballs. They're all regular folks-stupid, funny, venal, smart, conniving and gullible. It's just that some of them (okay, most of them) happen to be members of the criminal element.

There's Buddy Bragg (Ving Rhames), Foley's pal who helps spring him from the pen. He doesn't have a problem abetting a prison escape or a burglary, so long as he cleanses his conscience with a telephone confession to his born-again sister. Federal Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) has sworn to apprehend Foley, after having been taken hostage during the jail break. But she kind of got the hots for him while they were hiding in the trunk of the get-away car. It seems they both love old movies.

The intricate plot of "Out of Sight" concerns Jack's attempt to rob billionaire ex-con Richard Ripley (Albert Brooks) of his cache of uncut diamonds. It may be hard for some to follow, as director Steven Soderbergh's camera deftly flashes back from the present to the past, then leapfrogs over itself to the future and then back again until the action catches up to itself, but the story structure is less central to "Out of Sight's" accomplishment than its cast of singular characters.

They are people like Chino (Luis Guzman), another escapee who, while being hand-cuffed face down in the dirt by a lady cop, takes the time to comment, "Nice purse." Or like Glenn Michaels (Steve Zahn), the stoner blabbermouth whom Jack and Buddy can't seem to shake. Finally it dawns on him that they don't trust him. "Oh, I see," he says. "You guys are cynical."

Such tart, blase» observations are just one of screenwriter Scott Frank's many wry treats. The characters all seem to have known each other for years, refering to long-held grudges and resentments that only gradually are revealed to the audience. They're a seedy, petty, dangerous and delightful bunch, and one which you would be remiss not to spend a couple of hours with.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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