Format: DVDs from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.
I didn’t know going in that Out of Sight was based on an Elmore Leonard novel, but I guessed that that was the case not too long into the film. There’s a feel to this film reminiscent of Get Shorty, for instance. A lot of Leonard’s main character criminals are too clever by a half. We discover immediately that they are criminals and that they are real criminals, but his good guys tend to be non-violent, smarter than the average, and to have a particular ethical code surrounding them. Leonard also gives us true bad guy criminals who are violent and don’t shy away from committing violence.
But really, with Elmore Leonard good guy criminals, it’s all about being cool. In Out of Sight, our sympathetic criminal is bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney), who is busted when his car won’t start after his last job. Jack does a turn in a Florida prison. He gets out by warning the guards of a prison break by a man named Chino (Luis Guzman), knocking out a guard and wearing his uniform. Unfortunately for him, his escape involves a U.S. marshal named Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). Jack and Karen spend some time in the trunk of a car together while Jack’s getaway is driven by his friend Buddy (Ving Rhames).
Buddy and Jack have a new score planned. They served time with a white collar criminal named Richard Ripley (Albert Brooks), who brags about having millions in uncut diamonds. The goal is to head up to Detroit and rip off Ripley. To do this, they’ll need to beat another con named Maurice “Snoopy” Miller (Don Cheadle) and a former associate named Glenn (Steve Zahn) who also want the diamonds and aren’t afraid to kill to get them. At least Maurice isn’t afraid to kill anyone; Glenn isn’t so sure he’s picked the right team.
And, of course, we’re going to have a romance here a la The Thomas Crowne Affair. Their time in the car trunk together has ignited some sparks between Jack and Karen. Naturally, Karen wants to arrest and capture Jack and he doesn’t want to go back to prison, but the two are constantly looking for each other for other reasons as well. In the third act, everyone converges on Richard Ripley’s house, with the question being what will happen when Jack and Karen confront each other in the middle of a heist.
The cast is a relatively strong one. I’m not a huge Jennifer Lopez fan, but she’s not bad in this. Clooney, Zahn, Rhames, and Cheadle are typically solid and worth watching. The cast is rounded out with Dennis Farina as Karen’s father (kind of a stretch) and Catherine Keener as Jack’s ex-wife and short appearances from Viola Davis, Nancy Allen, Michael Keaton, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Out of Sight is too ambitious for its own good. The film runs just over two hours long, and there’s about three hours of material here. There are a lot of things that could easily be a part of the plot but turn out to be red plot herrings. Michael Keaton shows up as Karen’s kind-of boyfriend, and then he just vanishes. He’s ultimately a distraction from the main point of the story. There’s no real reason to even give Karen a boyfriend at all, since he figures into the story not even a little. He’s not even there to make Jack jealous. So why include him?
That’s a problem for something nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. The same team—Elmore Leonard’s novel adapted by Scott Frank—gave us Get Shorty a few years before this one, and it’s a superior screenplay all the way around. The characters are better and more likeable, the story is tighter, and it’s simply much more satisfying. I have to wonder if this was a weaker year in adapted screenplays or if 1995 was particularly packed with good ones (and it was good, but not exceptional).
Because there’s a lot of extra here, Out of Sight tries to be a lot of different films. It starts as an entertaining crime comedy, but it takes a very dark turn in the middle when Glenn is forced by Maurice to participate in a revenge killing. There’s no humor in a lot of these moments, so they seem to be tonally weird with the rest of the narrative. Is this a perky comedy where people on opposite sides of the law are attracted to each other? Or is it a gritty crime drama that involves a few gratuitous deaths and a potential rape? It tries to be both, and so it doesn’t do either completely.
There’s also quite a bit that happens here non-linearly. This is a technique that can be used to keep the audience in the dark on certain aspects of the film. Here, I’m not sure why the film was presented this way. There’s not a lot added by the returns to the past; those sections could easily be handled without what seems like affectation rather than style. It feels like a nod to Pulp Fiction, but there’s no reason for it other than Out of Sight turns out to a sort of companion piece to Jackie Brown (Michael Keaton plays the same character in both films).
I wanted to like this more than I did. The main reason I didn’t like it as well as I wanted to is that I’m still not sure what the movie was trying to be. Purely as an Oceans 11-style comedy romp, this would work well with some cuts. That seems to be where most of it is going. So the fact that it tries to give itself a harder edge in the second and third acts fails. Out of Sight isn’t bad, but I’m pretty sure I won’t have the desire to watch it again.
Why to watch Out of Sight: A pre-Oceans 11 Clooney crime comedy.
Why not to watch: It’s tonally all over the place.