Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Lookout

"The Lookout" (Scott Frank, 2007) When one samples a lot of movies, one notices trends. Sometimes, they're small things like the string of copy-cat movies that ride the financial coat-tails of a box office smash. Maybe it's a theme, like 'pregnant woman" movies, or "kids who have sex meet a grisly death."

Or superhero movies, be they
light, grim, or attitude-of-the-month.

Maybe I don't get out much, but it seems odd that a lot of the teen "thrillers" I've seen lately begin with a spectacular and traumatic car-crash. Is that part of the teen-zeitgeist that the acquisition of the freedom that "wheels" represent also is uppermost on their minds as the most ironic of deaths--
especially at a time when they're feeling most invulnerable. They can't imagine a "Dead Man's Curve" that could turn them into "teen angels" when they've seen themselves as an immortal "Leader of the Pack." There's something emblematically horrific about the symbol of your freedom turning against you.

And so, teen thrillers have the air of a driver's education blood-bath film about them.
The "Final Destination" films had a spectacular highway smash-up. "Disturbia" opened with one that traumatized the hero.

So, too, does "The Lookout," screenwriter Scott Frank's directorial debut. Frank's made a reputation for tough-guy neo-noirs along the lines of "
Get Shorty ," Minority Report," "Out of Sight,"—he has inexplicably written the screenplay for "Marley & Me"—and "The Lookout" is in the same vein. Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was a promising high-school athlete who, due to a stupid driving accident, has a variation of short-term memory loss and a crippling case of "Survivor's Guilt." For one, he has to make lists to keep him task-focused, and for the other he lives with his blind room-mate, Lewis (Jeff Daniels--fine, understated work). Cognitively, he's so "in the moment" that the only job he can reasonably function at is as clean-up crew at a local bank. That puts him under the watchful eye of a skanky team of heisters who blackmail Chris into being their entree into the facility.

One wishes that with a screenwriter of Frank's freshness that "The Lookout" would keep you guessing, but it does not—playing out as one might expect a movie with this particular character arc, would. This is no "
Memento" that would turn the complications and moral implications of a brain condition like this on its medulla oblongota. Here, Scott treats it as a deficiency that needs to be overcome for the world to work right for the young Mr. Pratt. And there are enough complications that affect him personally that he is compelled to pull himself out of his funk, and get his head on straight. Sounds a bit rote--a bit Hollywood-convenient--when boiled down to those essentials. But there are compensations with the likes of actors like Daniels, and Bruce McGill, and Carla Gugino lending supporting roles.

One hopes for better things from the talented Frank, but considering he's in line to helm the next attempt to jump-start a "Planet of the Apes" franchise for 20th Century Fox, they might be empty hopes.

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