Weekly Wire
Metro Pulse The Clooney Effect

Small-screen charm quickly becomes a big-screen yawn.

By Zak Weisfeld

JULY 6, 1998:  I think it would be fun to be a bank robber. I mean, I'd only hit the federally insured banks, and I'd be very suave and wear nicely tailored, retro-style suits with narrow lapels and three buttons (never anything double-breasted) and be polite to the teller and walk out with an envelope stuffed with hundreds and fifties and twenties while funky soul music thumped away in the background. In a way, being a bank robber is probably even cooler than being a music video director or a developer of multimedia content, though it's not quite as lucrative.

And no one is more to blame for the current wave of cool, if troubled, bank robbers than Elmore Leonard—the author who is fast becoming the John Grisham of the hip crime set. With Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and now Out of Sight originating in Leonard books, Leonard's once peculiar world has quickly become a Hollywood cliché.

It's no surprise really. Leonard's arch, knowing dialogue, quirky characters, and trendy locations fit well with the new crime aesthetic laid out by Tarantino and other indie filmmakers. And because he's written so damned many books, there's no awkward waiting for an original story to be produced—just option a book to Barry Sonnenfeld, cast a star and some character actors (it's considered an especially good omen if Samuel L. Jackson appears, even if briefly), sit back and watch the cash flow in.

The latest Leonardian tale to make its way to the big screen is Out of Sight —the story of a suave bank robber on the lam and the sexy Federal Marshall who falls for him (but still has to bring him in). Needless to say, the bank robber and the Marshall are surrounded by a rich cast of quirky low-lifes and both are very, very good looking.

The problem with Out of Sight is that while Leonard's style can still be gripping on the page, on the screen his dialogue tends to read like a formula and his characters seem to get reduced to their mannerisms. Nothing illustrates this point better than George Clooney's bank robber, Jack Foley, continually flipping open and lighting his Zippo with a snap of his fingers. This nervous tic is dwelled upon in such great detail that it seems prepared to deliver some deep and terrible message about the character, but, like so much in Out of Sight, the surface is all there is.

Of course, much the same can be said of George Clooney himself. While Clooney's puppy dog eyes, rakish grin, and chagrined smirk play powerfully on television's ER, they seem shallow and misplaced on the vast acreage of a movie screen. Despite giving the impression of being a genuinely nice guy, Clooney seems to be so confident in his looks that his characters never seem a risk or in danger.

When staring down a hood or dodging the cops, Clooney goes beyond cool, or even laconic, to a kind of somnolence, as though the whole enterprise is making him just a little bit sleepy. It's as if Clooney is saying, "I'm not a movie star, but I play one on TV."

Clooney is well matched in his flatness by Jennifer Lopez. Like Clooney, Lopez seems to be playing, not a Federal Marshall, but a movie star. And while she certainly has the looks to hold down the role, she too seems strangely distant—a sex symbol but without any actual sex.

Nowhere is the lack of chemistry, both within themselves and with each other, more visible than in the gruelingly stilted romance scene. Set in a hotel bar, with snow falling outside the windows, the dialogue seems to be read from Hallmark cue cards. And watching it, one gets the peculiar sensation that Clooney and Lopez are delivering their lines to their reflections in the glass, hoping for some kind of more passionate response.

Neither star is of much help to director Steven Soderberg, of Sex, Lies and Videotape fame, who seems lost in the punchy, plot-heavy world of Leonard. With unilluminating flashbacks and oddly chosen still frames, Soderberg turns the maze of Out of Sight into a muddle.

But it is when Soderberg focuses on his stars that the movie feels at a profound loss. Soderberg devotes plenty of screen time to close-ups, searching Lopez and Clooney's faces for the telling human detail that will make the story come alive. Sadly, he never finds it.

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