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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clooney Is Right on Key in 'Out of Sight'

As the Russian troika turns down the long, dark road of winter, Moscow movie fans can take comfort in yet another solid entry in the string of fine films that has provided some worthy diversion in recent weeks, as Stephen Soderbergh's entertaining "Out of Sight" comes to town at the American House of Cinema.

The 1998 caper film, starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez and based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, joins such recent Moscow fare as "Saving Private Ryan," "The Truman Show," "A Perfect Murder" and "Zorro" in what, God willing, seems to be a welcome Hollywood trend: popular entertainment based on character, not formula.

Soderbergh's effort is perhaps the most striking in this regard, for its outline - recidivist bank robber and female federal agent fall for each other as plans for a major heist are in progress - promises little more than the usual Bruce Willis-style smirk-and-shoot routine. And the top billing for Clooney, who has been remarkably unimpressive on the big screen (his "Batman and Robin" will live forever as a camp classic of unintended comedy), also sends warning signals.

But Soderbergh, best known for his laconic, off-beat debut, "Sex, Lies and Videotape," keeps character firmly in the foreground while drawing out the best performance, by far, of Clooney's career. As many reviewers have noted, this is accomplished mainly by making Clooney simply be still and concentrate on the thought and emotion in the lines, rather than indulging in the head-bobbing tics and cutesy poses that marred prior work.

He responds with a terrific performance as Jack Foley, the laid-back bank robber. Rather than milking his famous looks for showy effects, he lets Foley's charm emerge slowly and subtly. His friendly approach to armed robbery in the opening sequence, when he eases over to a teller's window and asks with a smile, "This your first time being held up?" sets the tone for the rest of the movie: the great timing, the trenchant dialogue, the sly seductiveness - and, of course, the criminal behavior.

In classic movie tradition, Foley and U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Lopez) "meet cute": They're locked in a car trunk together during a getaway - Sisco, of course, as a hostage. They go their separate ways, but the attraction kindled there lingers on and plays itself out over a complex but deftly-handled plot centered on the planned theft of a cache of diamonds. Lopez is also very good in her role, and she and Clooney strike some genuine sparks in their complicated pas de deux.

The film is full of interesting, well-rendered supporting players, giving a portion of reality to their characters that makes them more than comic diversions or plot devices. Albert Brooks does a striking turn as a renegade Wall Street banker behind bars (a la Michael Milken), while Ving Rhames contributes his usual solid work as Foley's partner, Buddy Bragg. Thereis also some nice acting by Dennis Farina, Don Cheadle and Isaiah Washington, as well as some unobtrusive celebrity cameos.

Soderbergh demonstrates a better feel for Leonard's quirky rhythms than Quentin Tarantino showed in "Jackie Brown" (his adaptation of the author's novel "Rum Punch"). Although there was much to admire in that film, Tarantino couldn't seem to get out of his own way; a sense of self-consciousness, of "doing a Tarantino," marred the movie's otherwise fine performances. But Soderbergh has put his own certified quirkiness in the service of Leonard's characters and crafted a minor gem.

- Chris Floyd