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By Hadley Hury

MAY 10, 1999:  Entrapment is a stylish caper film in the grand tradition of To Catch A Thief and Charade, in which a gentleman thief of a certain age fatefully crosses paths with a younger woman who will almost certainly bed him, possibly betray him, and who will, in the end, after all their hair-raising escapades in exotic locales, either beat or join him at his own game. Here, the éminence grise is Sean Connery, deftly playing a coda to all those James Bond films and proving yet again that an actor's golden age can often be built of senior performances. He is suitably partnered by Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Mask of Zorro), a strong physical presence if not yet an actor of substance.

Connery plays Mac MacDougal, a major-league art thief; Zeta-Jones is Virginia "Gin" Baker, a wunderkind insurance investigator as beautiful and buff as she is ambitious. It is established early on that both thrive on challenge as much as reward: Mac, it seems, cannot resist the (possibly swan-song) heist of a priceless tribal mask, and Gin is determined to entrap and outwit him. Thus, the viewer embarks on a nearly two-hour cat-and-mouse game of witting and outwitting; pleasurably, the entertainment and suspense never lag. The events race toward the countdown clock to the New Year's Eve of the millennium and the plot coils around topical issues of technology and macro-economics.

As important to Entrapment as the central tension between its two slyly ambiguous lead characters (the screenplay is by Ron Bass and William Broyles) is the expert direction of Jon Amiel, handsomely articulated by Phil Meheux's cinematography and the production design of Norman Garwood. Entrapment is one of this year's best-directed and best-looking films, in any genre, to date. From intimate human moments to complicated chase sequences and extraordinary location shooting -- ranging from the teeming urbanity of Kuala Lumpur to the Scottish Highlands -- Amiel's brilliant treatment of an old-fashioned formula entices and beguiles. One can easily imagine that the project, in the hands of a more prosaic director, might falter if not, indeed, utterly fail, becoming trite, boring, and, rather than clever, merely disingenuous. But Amiel sustains exactly the right tone and pace. Entrapment has genuine glamour, a delicate emotional arc, discreetly deployed humor, purring suspense, a seamlessly sensuous texture.

Potential viewers should not be discouraged by the trailer and television spot ads for the film. They do not do it justice, skirting all its real strengths and overemphasizing a disproportionately few moments of sex and slam-bang action; it leaves the impression that it's just another bad Avengers retread and that Sean Connery perhaps should have had the grace and good sense to retire, like Cary Grant, at 62.

Fortunately, the movie is not just another dispirited exercise in sex and violence; it's about adventure, trust, and eroticism, and their allied triumph over ennui and cynicism. Connery's innate sense of propriety, his gentle irony and clear-eyed lack of self-delusion are as seductive to the audience as MacDougal's are in the context of the film. Although Zeta-Jones' performance is by comparison inexperienced and one-dimensional, her strong facial features and confident physicality are an interesting match, and she seems to rise to the occasion with good instinctual choices. By the end of the film, and in spite of our better judgment, we accept that there is nothing leering or incredible about this particular 35-year-old woman setting her sights on this particular man nearly twice her age. For by the end of this glossy and engrossing thriller, director Jon Amiel and his expert production team have consistently done such a beautiful job of making us suspend our disbelief that questions of chronology would seem either irrelevant or even, perhaps, in poor taste.


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