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OUT OF SIGHT

by: Scott Renshaw

No previous adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel - and there have been a couple of pretty good ones recently in Get Shorty and Jackie Brown - has captured the author's unique flavor quite as well as Out of Sight. Though Leonard usually writes about underworld characters, he doesn't exactly write crime novels; though his stories are often quite funny, he doesn't exactly write comic novels; though his stories always come together in a way that makes sense, he doesn't exactly let tight plotting get in the way of an amusing tangent. Leonard is his own literary breed: sometimes sordid, sometimes smirking, always sly.

You'll find every one of those contradictions and then some in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight, a marvelously meandering caper with rhythms all its own. The story focuses on the aftermath of the Florida prison escape of career bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney). In the wrong place at the wrong time - or perhaps the right place - is U. S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), who ends up sharing a trunk with Jack when his friend Buddy (Ving Rhames) commandeers Karen's car for the escape. Surprisingly, the ride proves intriguing to both parties. Karen manages to free herself and gets on the case of re-apprehending Jack, though she isn't sure whether she wants him for business or pleasure. Jack, meanwhile, prepares for his next big score, though he isn't sure whether it's cash or Karen he hopes to be scoring.

Out of Sight works best as a quirky comedy, with screenwriter Scott Frank (who also adapted Get Shorty) providing great material for a superb supporting cast. Steve Zahn steals every one of his scenes as Jack and Buddy's perpetually stoned accomplice Glenn, channeling Crispin Glover with considerably more appealing goofiness. Also on hand are Albert Brooks as the white-collar crook whose home is our heroes' next target, Don Cheadle as edgy partner-in-crime Maurice "Snoopy" Miller, and Dennis Farina as Karen's protective father. There are even a couple of sharp unbilled cameos, including Michael Keaton reprising his character from Jackie Brown and a final scene appearance by another veteran of a previous Leonard adaptation. A good script can make even mediocre actors look good; Frank's script in the hands of these actors is consistently entertaining.

But Out of Sight isn't just a comedy; it's also a love story, if a very odd one. The relationship between Jack and Karen is the heart of the film, a dangerous set-up since the two characters share only two scenes for all practical purposes. Both scenes, however, are perfectly executed: the trunk-trapped conversation (seductively photographed by Elliot Davis in tail-light red), and a meeting in a hotel bar which fluidly intertwines with a closer encounter in Karen's room. Clooney has never looked more comfortable or charismatic on the big screen - nor, for that matter has Lopez. With a clever nod to the unbelievable nature of many film romances (in a reference to Three Days of the Condor), Out of Sight gets maximum mileage out of the pairing of its stars to create a believable mis-matched romance.

Out of Sight also adds plenty of crime caper elements to its comedy and romance, including no small amount of bloodshed, but even then it seems entirely cohesive. Credit Soderbergh with crafting a distinctive, unifying look and feel from Frank's deftly back-tracking script. Most frequently he employs an abrupt freeze-framing device, usually to mark transitions between scenes and location. In Soderbergh's capable hands the freeze-frames never feel gimmicky, instead playing as chapter stops on Leonard's snappy punch lines. There's nothing particularly deep or intensely memorable about Out of Sight - indeed, the pace flags at times - but it's the kind of film which punches holes in the notion that

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