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FW Weekly Leaning on Leonard

Hollywood mines another jewel out of the novelist who brought us "Get Shorty."

By Joe Leydon

JULY 13, 1998:  Sometimes the advertising guys can do a movie a disservice by selling it as something it's not. If you look at the trailers for Out of Sight, you might think it's just another lightweight comedy-action caper. But it's really something craftier, edgier - and much sexier.

The movie is based on a best-seller by Elmore Leonard, the prolific novelist whose loosely plotted, character-driven and amusingly eccentric crime stories are being optioned by just about every producer in Hollywood these days. Literary purists, take note: Many of the writer's fans have hailed Out of Sight as the best-ever big-screen version of a Leonard novel. That's exceedingly high praise when you consider the quality of two other recent Leonard adaptations: Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown (taken from Leonard's Rum Punch) and Barry Sonnenfeld's Get Shorty (which, like this movie, was scripted by Scott Frank). But the fans have just cause for their appreciative enthusiasm.

George Clooney radiates megawatt charisma as Jack Foley, a charming rogue who's usually smooth enough to sweet-talk his way through bank robberies without having to brandish a weapon. Unfortunately, for all his self-confidence, Jack isn't especially successful at sustaining his criminal career. In fact, as Out of Sight begins, he bungles his latest bank job, and quickly returns to prison - a place, we're told, where he has spent much of his adult life. With a little help from Buddy Bragg (Ving Rhames), a former cellmate and frequent partner in crime, Jack manages to escape from the slammer. But even this enterprise fails to run smoothly. Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), a beautiful U.S. marshal, just happens to be in the right place at the wrong time as Jack and Buddy reunite. So she's forced to join Jack in the trunk of the getaway car.

Much to her surprise, and to his delight, Jack and Karen enjoy their brief interlude in close quarters. They trade shop talk and share memories of favorite movies, just like a couple of customers at a trendy singles bar. And even though neither acknowledges the obvious, they are quite comfortable in their compromising position. After they're separated, Jack can't help thinking about Karen, even when he should be thinking about his last big heist. And despite her better judgment, Karen can't help thinking about Jack. But she doesn't let that get in the way of her joining a search for the escaped convict. Because, one way or the other, she always gets her man.

Lopez is such a smolderingly beautiful woman that it's often easy to overlook that she's also a fine actress. In Out of Sight, she gets to play a full-bodied character, in every sense of the term, and she gives a marvelously multifaceted performance. Whether she is immobilizing a headstrong tough guy, or cooing gratitude to Karen's doting father (Dennis Farina) for an appropriate birthday gift - a spiffy new handgun - Lopez is appealing and persuasive. But wait, there's more: she and Clooney bring a strong sense of ruefully romantic longing to their scenes together and generate a chemistry that's potent enough to fuel a rocket.

Like other Leonard stories, Out of Sight is crammed with colorful characters and freewheeling plot twists. Director Steven Soderbergh (sex lies & videotape) maintains a graceful control of the movie's mood swings, and provides a first-rate supporting cast to back up his well-cast leads. In addition to Rhames and Farina, the stand-outs include Steve Zahn as Glenn, a foggy-headed small-time crook; Don Cheadle as Snoopy, an ex-convict who wants to muscle in on Jack's robbery plans; and Albert Brooks as Ripley, a Wall Street wheeler-dealer who spent time behind bars with Snoopy and Jack. While serving his sentence, Ripley bragged a little too much about his hidden stash of uncut diamonds. For Jack, this bounty proves to be almost as alluring as Karen.


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