Out of Sight (review)

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Playing with Fire

Jack Foley (The Peacemaker‘s George Clooney) is an audacious thief who commits daring unarmed robberies. Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) is a tough-as-nails federal marshal who gets pistols as presents from her daddy (Saving Private Ryan‘s Dennis Farina). Naturally, these two are made for each other.

Really. Out of Sight would have a good chance of working in any event by dint of its roots in Elmore Leonard. But it’s the electricity between Clooney and Lopez that makes this movie fly.
Karen happens to be in the vicinity when Jack breaks out of a Florida prison. Events transpire so that Jack and his accomplice on the outside, Buddy (Ving Rhames), have no option but to take her along for the getaway ride. In she goes, into the trunk of her own car, and Jack along with her, the better to hide from the police. While Buddy takes the driver’s seat, Jack and Karen… well, they talk about movies. In the trunk. It’s instantly a classic scene, one of those great self-referential movie moments.

She makes her escape, but Jack is convinced that if he can meet her again under better circumstances, you know, things could happen. Sure enough, Karen is determined to get on the case to bring Jack in and put him back in jail. It’s not PC to talk about the appeal of the bad, dangerous man, but there it is — Karen fantasizes about stealing into Jack’s apartment to arrest him and instead allowing him to, ahem, lead her astray.

Think The Fugitive or Les Misérables with chemistry. Out of Sight is a sexy cat-and-mouse game between the criminal and the lawman, er, lawwoman obsessed with bringing him in. He keeps playing with his cigarette lighter, flicking it on and off, as if he knows he’s playing with fire in letting Karen find him. She has some trouble reconciling her desire for him and her desire to see him back in jail — her passion for justice isn’t diminished one whit. “Hormones,” they acknowledge to each other with a shrug, as if to say, “What choice do we have?”

Karen and Jack are the kind of characters all too rare in movies: complicated and contradictory in ways that manage not to seem contrived but only make them more real. Jack is clever and intelligent, a gentleman thief with a sense of style who doesn’t use a gun — it’s easy to make a hero of him. On the other hand, he’s also stupid enough to keep getting caught, and frustrated enough by the conventional world that wants him to work a boring 9-to-5 job to keep returning to the easy money of crime. And on the third hand, he’s self-aware enough to realize the ultimate futility of his chosen profession. “Do you know anyone who’s done one last big score and then gone on to live the good life?” Jack asks Buddy as they plan a big diamond heist.

In some ways, Karen is a lot like Jack. She’s chosen an unconventional career for herself — women in law enforcement don’t have it easy, as her fellow officers continually remind her by treating her with nothing but condescension. (Ironically, the bad guys are much more respectful — oh, they give her all the crap you’d expect them to give a cop, but there’s never that sneery undertone that their manliness is somehow threatened by having to deal with a mere woman.) Karen is highly resourceful, talking Glenn, a friend of Jack’s, into doing her bidding. “If I wasn’t stoned there is no way you woulda talked me into this,” Glenn says, but somehow we doubt that.

Out of Sight is a lot of fun, and forced me to revise upward slightly my middling opinion of George Clooney. Pair him with Jennifer Lopez again, and I’ll be real happy.

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