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To catch a thief

By Vladimir Zelevinsky

Directed by Jon Amiel

Written by Ronald Bass and William Broyles Jr., story by Ronald Bass and

Michael Hertzberg

With Sean Connery, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ving Rhames, Will Patton

The curious summer season as defined by Hollywood (early May to late August) has begun, so mercy upon us all. The promised lineup for this year seems to be rather unexciting, with the hopeful exceptions of new films from Lucas, Kubrick, and Sonnenfeld. The slate seems to be as barren of creativity as it gets. Exhibit one: Entrapment.

There is at least some consolation to be gained from the fact that Entrapment is a product of thoroughly professional craftsmen: it’s directed by Jon Amiel (Sommersby, Copycat) and co-written by Ronald Bass (Rain Man, The Joy Luck Club). As a result, it’s consistently watchable. To be fair, it’s much more than that: it’s also exciting, lush, thrilling, and sensuous. There’s just one wee bit of a problem with this movie: it makes no sense.

Operating in a classic heist-film mode, Entrapment deals with a couple of dueling protagonists, a veteran thief, Robert MacDougal (Sean Connery), and a perky insurance investigator, Virginia Baker (Catherine Zeta-Jones), out to trap him. Throughout the movie, they participate in several elaborately choreographed robberies, exchange smoldering glances, and engage in witty banter.

Or at least that is what they are supposed to do. The bulk of the story, the action part, is indeed very good, with one robbery (stealing an ancient Chinese mask) being expertly choreographed, beautiful and thrilling simultaneously. The opening isn’t bad either, but the rest is blah: the car chase lasts about four seconds, and the final sequence -- the computer break-in at the tallest building in the world -- is filmed mainly in boring close-ups. The messy and arrhythmic editing, probably the worst since Sean Connery’s previous summer hit -- The Rock, doesn’t help either,

The banter is a total loss, with the screenplay not even trying for witticisms. Judging from this screenplay and the one for What Dreams May Come I guess that the formerly great screenwriter Bass has become just another victim of the system. What concerns smoldering glances, well, not only is there a major age difference, but the level of acting isn’t quite sufficient.

Connery infuses his performance with a deep undercurrent of self-depreciation, and it’s all very touching. What utterly lacks in this glamorous heist movie is the iconic, larger-than-life performance. Robert McDougal is alternatively mysterious or ironic, and that’s about it. Catherine Zeta-Jones, who I now officially nominate for the title of the Most Beautiful Person on the Planet, is all right, but she’s not iconic enough either. Who really works overtime is her body double: I suspect that a good deal of the action scenes were filmed with Zeta-Jones not even present on the set.

For most of the movie, the things that work and the things that don’t weigh in more or less evenly, and the result is fitfully enjoyable -- until the final ten minutes. The ending is a total disaster, with plot twists that are obvious, meaningless, unnecessary, atrociously paced, and that refuse to make an iota of sense when viewed in the light of the previous hour and a half.

At least now I better understand the way Hollywood works. Before I thought that most of its films are made for stupid people -- but Entrapment made me reconsider. There’s one scene when the characters plan a particularly high-tech heist involving the de-synchronization of two clocks. One of these two clocks speeds up by one-tenth of a second every minute. Anybody with a first-grade education should be able to calculate that in one hour the difference will be six seconds. The movie says that the difference will be ten seconds, evidently forgetting that an hour is not a hundred minutes. Clearly, this movie was not made for stupid people but by stupid people -- the craftsmen who are skillful and professional and maybe even talented are stupid nonetheless.