When Jack Foley (George Clooney) first lays eyes on Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), he's just crawled through the muck of a tunnel leading from a Florida minimum security prison. He's dressed in a pilfered guard's uniform, but she gazes at him with unflinching suspicion. Wearing sleek designer clothes and high heels, Karen is calmly, confidently pointing a pump-action shotgun at him.
Thrown in a car trunk together, this prison escapee (a career bank robber) and the U.S. marshal strike up a conversation that smoothly segues from more serious topics to their favorite movies. It's the unlikely genesis of a romance that functions with its own peculiar logic.
Jack and Karen's obvious chemistry &emdash; which unnerves them both, but doesn't alter their essential natures &emdash; is only fueled by the fragile, illogical nature of their union. Their romantic paradox is the heart of this most unusual crime film which, instead of focusing on the caper (another variation of the criminal holy grail of "the last big score"), is all about its lively, oddball characters.
By turns bleak, funny, touching, sexy and poignant, with bursts of violence that rise like sudden geysers from a still pool, Out of Sight is chock-full of dead-on performances. Clooney and Lopez (who possess the unfettered charisma of old-style movie stars) are part of a superb ensemble including the steadfast Ving Rhames and Dennis Farina, a banally vicious Don Cheadle and Isaiah Washington, and high/low-brow humor from Albert Brooks and Steve Zahn.
Adapted by Scott Frank (Get Shorty) from Elmore Leonard's novel, and directed by Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies and videotape), Out of Sight has the confident air and idiosyncratic nature of Hollywood's quirky 1970s output (emphasized by David Holmes' terrific, minimalist funk score). Soderbergh follows a deliberate, thoughtful pace, shifting the story from blindingly colorful Florida and chilly, monochromatic Detroit to the stultifying, too-close quarters of a California prison, all while zooming in on the telling detail of each character.
Like a mosaic, Out of Sight shows off its rich detail, but uses it to fashion an expertly composed whole.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.