Ways of Seeing

Out of Sight
area theaters

Déjà Vu
Lagoon Cinema, starts Friday

Was it fate, coincidence, or the invisible hand of the market that led two indie mavericks to release their most commercial movies in the same season? Ever since Steven Soderbergh inspired an indie renaissance of sorts with sex, lies, and videotape in 1989, he's continued to make offbeat and low-budget films--or at least until the $30-million Out of Sight, which marks his first venture into truly commercial territory. Meanwhile, unreconstructed eccentric Henry Jaglom (Eating) departs so thoroughly from his no-budget, narrative-free style in Déjà Vu that the movie's distributor considered billing it as "a Henry Jaglom film for those who hate Henry Jaglom films." Since both directors built their careers on risk-taking, it makes sense that should they break into the mainstream with movies about romantic roulette.

Reinventing himself more than the crime-drama genre with Out of Sight, Soderbergh nevertheless pumps some new blood into the tradition of Elmore Leonard adaptations (e.g., Get Shorty, Jackie Brown). When gentleman con Jack Foley (George Clooney) escapes from prison with the help of partner Buddy Bragg (Ving Rhames), he falls in love-at-first-(rifle-)sight with federal marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). Thereafter Sisco and Foley engage in a potentially deadly cat-and-mouse romance from Miami to Detroit, where Foley plans one last heist with a posse that includes dazed and confused Glenn (Steve Zahn) and homicidal drug thug "Snoop" Miller (Don Cheadle).

Unlike the lily-white noirs of yesteryear or the '90s' neo-blaxploitation flicks, Out of Sight handles both place and race carefully but casually. The funky score by David Holmes makes perfect sense, moving from the Latin strains of "Watermelon Man" in Miami to the Motown likes of the Isley Brothers when the action shifts to Detroit. Meanwhile, Soderbergh's cloverleaf narrative, which combines flashback and fantasy, and his edgy visual style, which includes freeze-framing the action at pivotal moments, contribute further to the extended-foreplay vibe that swirls around the gorgeous leads.

If Soderbergh stays true to his renegade rep, much credit is due to Lopez's turn as the take-no-sass marshal who packs a pistol and not a purse. When a baddie (Isaiah Washington) threatens to give her "what all good bitches want--a bone," she whacks him with a bone of her own--a retractable billy club. Alternately, the movie's sexiest scene features a fully armed and clad Lopez astride Clooney's buck-naked bathing beauty. Giving this summer's "man-or-career?" trope a gender-savvy twist, Out of Sight has the woman decide the hero's fate. Still, since this movie's leather-bound "tough babe" doubles as "daddy's little girl" (with Dennis Farina as her proud papa), it's not surprising that mainstream reviewers have overlooked Lopez's moxie, focusing instead on her "Latina-siren voluptuousness" (Entertainment Weekly) and effectively revising the plot to suggest that Clooney seduces her.

But in fact, this ultimately earnest thriller turns conventional all on its own: Despite its sophisticated style, Out of Sight prefers conventional cop morality to hip nihilism. Thus, Clooney's toothsome knave is a righteous outlaw who robs banks with charm, disapproves of guns, and avenges insults by (white) capitalists and (black) rapists alike. So too the Tarantino-lite rapid-fire repartee disintegrates into romantic fuzz when Jack and Karen contemplate true love: "You make eye contact...you know something that no one else knows...the person's gone...and it's too late."

Perhaps it's fitting that stories of providential happenstance and random coupling would appeal to male directors who seem to confuse divine intervention with their own. Jaglom's '40s-style Déjà Vu is a supernatural reverie about romantic predestination that inexplicably propels an engaged American woman (Victoria Foyt) into the arms of a married British stranger (Stephen Dillane). "You meet somebody and everything clicks and you don't know why," she tells her newfound (or is that long-lost?) flame. His response: "It feels like one of those moments that if you turn the wrong way you regret it forever." Dialogue-driven to a fault, Jaglom's film doesn't appear to notice that its intensely "realistic" conversation and its fantastic plot are at cross-purposes. After all, part of the beauty of connections made and missed is that they're inexplicable--so why spend two hours analyzing them? And for a film about memory and ways of seeing, Déjà Vu expends far too little effort on its images.

Although Jaglom, a self-identified "feminist" and "male lesbian" (!), prides himself on his improvisational style, his notorious directorial M.O. includes browbeating women into emotional submission. (For proof of this, see the POV doc Who Is Henry Jaglom?) Accordingly, Foyt's heroine questions her destiny, only to be told, "You don't really have much say in it, do you?" Déjà vu, indeed. As for George Clooney--well, he didn't leave much to chance, either. According to Lopez's recent recollections on a late-night talk show, the actor insisted on horizontal screen tests with prospective female leads, supervised by Soderbergh, at Clooney's own home. Seems the unseen forces that shape women's destiny behind the scenes aren't so mysterious after all.

 
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