THE CRITICS: VIDEOS

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Out of Sight (15) Steven Soderbergh's return to (relatively) big-budget film-making is an Elmore Leonard adaptation that puts both Jackie Brown and Get Shorty to shame. It's the kind of movie you thought Hollywood didn't know how to make any more. Romantic, sexy, generous and light on its feet, Out of Sight is a fluidly structured crime caper with a strength which lies more in vivid characterisations than in Tarantino-esque tricks. It's a familiar enough story, with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez playing lovers from opposite sides of the law (he's a professional bank-robber who's just broken out of jail; she's a federal marshal assigned to nab him). But in Soderbergh's hands, it feels fresh and unpredictable. Soderbergh's facility for directing actors pays off handsomely: Don Cheadle, Ving Rhames, and Steve Zahn are all excellent in supporting roles. Most miraculous of all, the director has somehow persuaded Clooney to abandon the coy, head-ducking routine that normally passes for acting in his book, and turn on a revelatory leading-man charm.

Rounders (15) Director John Dahl, who once impressed with his sleek noir updates (Red Rock West and, to a lesser degree, The Last Seduction), continues to disappoint with this dull, lame-brained depiction of the New York gambling underworld. Essentially reprising his Good Will Hunting role, Matt Damon plays a law student/card-sharp who's putting himself through school on his poker winnings. Edward Norton (a significantly better actor) has a marginally more interesting role, as his weaselly best friend who can't stay out of trouble. But even he can't do much with the script, which is little more than a collection of jargon-seasoned cliches. The only actor who makes a favourable impression is John Turturro, in a brief but indelible cameo. If little else, Rounders can lay claim to a couple of dubious honours: John Malkovich's thickly accented Russian gambler was by far the most grotesquely over-the-top performance in a Hollywood movie last year, and Gretchen Mol's long-suffering girlfriend is easily the most insultingly underwritten female role.

DENNIS LIM

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