Film: Romancing the Sean

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The Independent Culture
In Entrapment Catherine Zeta-Jones plays insurance investigator Virginia Baker, a woman so dedicatedly professional that she hasn't got time for relationships, holidays, fun. What she does have time for, apart from hair and make-up, is tracking down the world's most famous art thief, Robert MacDougal (Sean Connery). The set-up encourages you to think of Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway playing cat-and-mouse in The Thomas Crown Affair - or Black Widow, where Debra Winger and Theresa Russell aren't so much cat and mouse as tigress and wolverine: at any rate, there exists between the hunter and the hunted in those movies a palpable tension, and a teasing ambiguity - which may or may not be sexual.

The first hint that Entrapment is not that kind of movie can be discerned in the characters' names. She is not Virginia but "Gin", he is not MacDougal but "Mac". Message to the audience: you're going to like these people. I'm not sure what director Jon Amiel's brief was here, but it plainly didn't have anything to do with letting us make up our own minds. However much it has been promoting itself as a thriller, what Entrapment actually wants us to buy into is the May-to-December partnering of Zeta-Jones and Connery. However, we will come to this later.

The plot kicks off with a big set-piece robbery. A Rembrandt has been lifted, and the insurance people are convinced that it's the work of master burglar MacDougal. So Gin, masquerading as a willing accomplice, suggests to Mac that they steal a priceless gold mask. He cautiously agrees and takes her off to prepare for the heist in his Scottish castle, a hideaway adorned with his stolen modern art collection. (So that's what they mean by bringing home the Bacon). Under his tutelage, she learns how to sneak through the infrared security beams en route to the treasure - her manoeuvres have the look of a tedious modern dance workout, though with Zeta-Jones's amplified breathing as accompaniment - not to mention a jumpsuit that seems made from skintight Bacofoil - Connery's gaze is riveted.

The question is, how long can this foreplay continue before they tear off each other's clothes and get it on - Mac insists that no personal involvement has always been his rule, and he could add (but doesn't) that he's old enough to be her grandfather. Mindful of Clint Eastwood's philandering in True Crime, I was dreading the moment when Connery would pull her close and fasten his lips on hers: there again, it was proving such a fight to stay awake during the build-up scenes that even inappropriate sexual advances would have been a relief. And if it has to be a 69-year- old man making those advances, then at least Connery supplies a certain satirical twinkle: the one moment of the film I honestly enjoyed is a throwaway gesture he makes after he's been jogging and stopped for a breather. Zeta-Jones runs on ahead, while he grimaces silently, as if to say: "I'm too old for this shit."

The promise of sex hangs over Entrapment, yet the film-makers seem uncertain whether to play safe or light the blue touch paper. A leaden playfulness is settled on as middle ground.

Part of the problem can be traced to co-screenwriter Ron Bass, who numbers among his credits Stepmom, When a Man Loves a Woman and What Dreams May Come. Somebody should check this guy's word processor for saccharine overload. Here it's not sentimentality that disfigures the picture, so much as simple clunkiness, spiced with the occasional howler. We get to hear one of the great bad lines of the year in a scene that involves Mac trying to extract a confession from Gin by repeatedly ducking her head under water. When she comes up gasping for air a third or fourth time, she blurts damply: "Please come with me to Kuala Lumpur." What a fabulous way to introduce the next budget-blowing location!

For the most part, however, the film exhibits a dogged competence, and goes all out for a Bond-style finale in a glass skyscraper as the millennium countdown begins. As her boss (Will Patton) and his partner (Ving Rhames) wait anxiously in the wings, a conclusion - thank God - finally seems in sight. The relationship between Connery and Zeta-Jones has gone through so many twists by then, it's anybody's guess who's gulling who. Has he gone spoony over her? Has she stitched him up for a grand larceny charge?

These questions might matter if we could feel something was at stake - a vital romantic connection, for instance - but the film has effectively anaesthetised us. Our perception of Gin and Mac hasn't changed: we know as much (or as little) about them as we did at the beginning - not because they are opaque or mysterious, but because nothing of humanity has touched either of them.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is easy on the eye, even if she rarely seems capable of duplicitous cunning. Connery strolls through the part with a look pitched somewhere between regret and magisterial boredom. I think I know how he felt.

If Entrapment is a warning of blockbusters to come, then we could be in for a deadly summer.