Entrapment (Jon Amiel, 1999)

06Aug11

Sean Connery (Robert MacDougal), Catherine Zeta Jones (Virginia Baker), Ving Rhames (Aaron Thibadeaux). Screenplay by Ronald Bass and William Broyles Jr. Directed by Jon Amiel. Rating: 12. Running time: 113 minutes.

I’ve said this many times, but it remains so true and relevant that I’m going to have to say it again: any film that begins with shots of the New York skyline puts me on edge. It seems to be the most reliable way of predicting which films are in fact going to be nothing more than havens for clichés. What is the purpose, exactly, of these seemingly obligatory introductions? It can’t be mere scene setting, for in Entrapment we’re shown the Empire State Building over five times in the first five minutes. ‘Yes,’ you think. ‘I get it – we are in New York. Now why not move on?’ Maybe the purpose is to score cheap points with the audience straight away – after all, everyone loves reminders of the beauty of the concrete jungle. If only it were shown more sparingly and for a good reason, the sight of it in films might have the effect it should, instead of ensuring sheer infuriation.

Unfortunately, and in spite of fond memories of this action crime thriller from my early innocent teenage years, these mild warnings soon turn into insufferable sirens. The problems are everywhere, and you soon wonder whether the director of Entrapment is really interested in entertaining his audience or just offending them by even entertaining the thought that we could play along with his film’s preposterous nature. In fact, I must admit it’s possible that this isn’t a dilemma at all, and that Amiel manages to do both. I did, after all, finish watching this film once more despite remembering every turn so well, and not once was I wishing it would wrap things up fast. But I suspect that’s down to the pure fun of watching Connery and Catherine Zeta. Without them, this would be even more laughable than it already is.

That’s not to say their acting and chemistry is formidable, but in fairness to both of them they have little to go on when they’re allowed this little time to explain themselves. Instead they’re thrusted into the action head first and don’t look back for a second. By the time the credits roll up, they are, of course, two thieves who have just succeeded in stealing everything, and they’re going to go away with no traces of their crimes, nurturing their newfound romance every step of the way. If only we knew who these people were we might be able to brush the incredulity of it all to one side and smile at their success. But we don’t know them, and so instead the final kiss rings hollow.

Sean Connery spends the film looking like he’s desperate to roll his eyes, though I’m not sure what at. My money’s on either the awkward absurdity of the lines he’s delivering, or the fact he’s 70 but rolling back to the Bond years walking a tight rope between the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur on New Year’s Eve. That combined with the fact he’s just carried out a job to steal 8 billion dollars that he only found out about the day before, and thus had under 24 hours to plan, would be enough to make anyone look shifty. Oh, and cliché alert number two – here’s where the film gives us one of those computers that don’t actually look or function like computers, but just display a big screen that says ‘DOWNLOAD,’ and there’s a countdown against the clock to reach 100% in time.

Or maybe Connery just can’t believe his luck that he’s filming alongside Catherine Zeta, who oozes with sex appeal in precisely the way you would expect. Perhaps what you wouldn’t see coming, however, is the extent to which the filmmakers use it, for they border on turning a beauty into a prostitute. She’s absolutely gorgeous, but that doesn’t mean you have to find every excuse possible for her to get naked on screen. Nor does it mean that when she’s practising some exotic manoeuvres to dodge laser beams and reach a much desired Chinese mask, you employ as cinematographer a horny fifteen year old kid who decides to take the opportunity to track her buttocks. For a minute you wonder if you knocked the Sky remote by mistake and flicked onto MTV and a Kylie music video. Zeta Jones’ beauty speaks for itself, so why can’t directors learn to let it? She would be seductive without filmmakers ridiculously instructing her to pout every time she’s meant to convince someone to do what she wants. The only good thing is they don’t stoop to the level of letting Connery and her have sex.

The biggest problem is in the background, revolving around the fact that these two characters aside, who are thinly constructed enough as it is, are surrounded by peripheral persons with even less individuality, and plenty more predictability. We have an insurance boss with attitude worried about his prize possessions, a fat bare-chested white Mafia don chilling on a throne in a mini-Malaysian palace (this isn’t stereotype, it’s just fucking ridiculous), a crooked cockney art-dealer with gunmen chilling in his back office, and a corrupt black FBI agent who talks gangster 24/7 (perhaps another source of Connery’s expressions).

This type of stuff cannot be swept under the carpet. You’d need a country estate to bury it in. But, as Connery says about every ridiculous job that’s thrown in his direction – ‘it’s doable.’ Turn your cringeometer up to boiling point, take the feast of insulting filmmaking in good taste, and just laugh at Connery swinging from skyscrapers and stealing billions of dollars. And then cry at the shameless abuse of Miss Zeta Jones’ divine body.

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