Films glamorize criminality more than Ghirardelli chocolate commercials forget to remind you that sugar is bad for you, but I’m not complaining any time soon. So long as attractive actors and actresses continue to sin onscreen like they’re the coolest people alive, puffing cigarettes and having clever existential glitterings of conversation, I’ll be happy. Movies are a form of escapism, after all, and what’s better than spending a couple of hours with do-badders who look good being bad? You forgot that Uma and John were playing pretty terrible people as they did the twist at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. There’s something enticing about living vicariously through individuals not affected by suburbia or midlife crises. We can save American Beauty or Young Adult for later.
Out of Sight, one of the finest comedy thrillers in a decade full of them, never stops the crime train for a minute and never allows for us to let our guards down. It is a film that rides high on the fumes of witty exchanges and effortless self-regard, just three-dimensional enough to get away with being so damn artificially snappy and just artificial enough to three-dimensionalize the fact that this is a movie, just one that happens to be remarkably and irrepressibly engaging.
It is also widely touted as the film that made George Clooney a star and got him thrown into a typecast "hell" of playing charming, devil-may-care sinners. In Out of Sight, he portrays Jack Foley, a bank robber so confident that the majority of his career has gone without gun use — he can easily convince a teller of a threat without actually having to prove himself. As the film opens, he’s pulling yet another quick job (he’s lost count) that travels down the wrong path after his car refuses to start. He’s escaped jail time for years, with past encounters lasting long and throbbing with emptiness. This time, he refuses to give up. So he cooks up an escape plan that, more or less, works.
But as his right-hand man, Buddy (Ving Rhames), waits outside the prison grounds for his partner in crime to jump out of a clichéd underground tunnel, U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) is also passing the time in her car; and though she has a shotgun in hand, her attempts to thwart Jack and Buddy mid-escape fail. She is kidnapped, thrown into the trunk of her own car with Jack, with Buddy driving away into the night.
But something strange happens: Jack and Karen find themselves liking each other, not in the way pals do but in the carnal manner middle-schoolers dream of. Their trunk conversations consist not of threats and faux pas but of easygoing small talk (Faye Dunaway, for instance, is a topic). It’s a shame that she sides with the law and he smirks at it; then maybe they’d have something.
Yet even after escape ensues and separation becomes reality, the two are still fascinated by one another, chance encounters fueling their flirtations as Jack eventually turns toward another job with Karen hot on his trail, in the throes of investigation but also of sexual interest. At its heart, Out of Sight is a caper — but it’s more fascinating when focused on the cat-and-mouse romance between its sexy leads, who have such crackling repartee that a mere glance emits a spark.
Despite the linkage that almost immediately connects the two before first viewing, I was not reminded of Pulp Fiction while watching Out of Sight but of Jackie Brown. This is the second time I’ve watched the film, and more apparent to me is Steven Soderbergh’s tight handling of a screenplay with a lot of characters, subplots, and misunderstandings. Like Tarantino, he doesn’t figure a drawn-out scene regarding character quirks is such a bad thing — it provides dimension that ultimately makes the movie size up in terms of personality. As we get to know the people involved, the more they seem like human beings (just catered with sizzling dialogue) who commit crime for a living only because there isn’t anything else to do. But then there’s Lopez as the good guy, who bears noticeable self-possession amid these big names. Why doesn’t she make more movies like this?
By its end, Out of Sight only slightly flies of the rails and loses some of its steam, but it hardly undoes the vibrancy seen previously. This is a movie that sees dialogue as a virtue, characters as people and not objects. I am in awe of its intelligence, the way it so whole-heartedly refuses to commit to genre norms. It takes familiar characteristics and renews them, freshly and unpredictably. B+