Very few things are as disappointing as that moment when you realize that you have been duped by an artfully arranged trailer – a trailer that, in actuality, bears very little resemblance to the majority of the film you just paid good money to see. Such is the case with “The Lookout.” Far from the taut, action-packed thriller that has been advertised on theatrical and television screens for the past few months, “The Lookout” is actually a staid study in character development, albeit one with a rather explosive ending.
“The Lookout” is the directorial debut of UCSB alum Scott Frank – whose previous forays into film were of the screenwriting variety, with “Out of Sight,” “Minority Report,” “Get Shorty” and “The Interpreter,” proving he has the chops to write a decent thriller, if not direct one. The story, also written by Frank, follows small-town, high-school ice hockey star Chris (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he tries to live a normal life despite the fact that a car accident has left him with little memory and a wide variety of other psychological symptoms. Chris lives with the sardonic Lewis (Jeff Daniels), a blind, guitar-playing telemarketer, who serves as his mentor and as the film’s comic relief. One night, after completing his shift as a night janitor at an isolated bank, Chris runs into the charismatic and cunning Gary (Matthew Goode) and the gorgeous femme fatale Luvlee (Isla Fisher) at a bar. As Chris is drawn deeper into Gary and Luvlee’s world, he realizes that a heist is underway, and he is smack-dab in the middle of it. Chaos, violence, kidnapping and double-crossing ensues.
On its surface, the film feels like a teen-movie take on the neo-noir genre. From its mid-’90s alt-rock score to its oh-so-predictable plot twists, “The Lookout” has teen-friendly summer blockbuster written all over it. So why release it during the post-Oscar film-dumping season? Because, as with most noir films, not everything in “The Lookout” is what it seems. In fact, the film works best when viewed as a calculated character study and not as the edge-of-your-seat thriller that the film’s publicity people seem intent on selling it as.
“The Lookout” is really more of a showcase for its stellar cast – featuring a virtual who’s who of today’s up-and-coming actors anchored by the spot-on sensibilities of established, if underrated, actor Jeff Daniels. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who already proved he has the dark, handsome and brooding thing down in “Brick” – a much better hybrid of the teen movie and neo-noir genres if you ask me – continues to show off his considerable acting skills as the tortured anti-hero with a heart of gold. In a role that could have easily been bogged down by his character’s disabilities, Gordon-Levitt still manages to portray Chris as being empathetic rather than merely sympathetic – quite a feat. Goode and Fisher triumph as well, managing to imbibe their respective characters with a strong sense of realism despite the fact that they both play stereotypical archetypes straight out of central casting.
Ultimately, “The Lookout” is all about hybridity – it’s a hybrid of teen movie and neo-noir, it’s a hybrid of a carefully constructed character study and a haphazardly executed shoot-em-up and it’s a hybrid of the kind of dark, little soulful indie movie that draws critical acclaim and the kind of big-budget summer blockbuster that draws butts into seats come summertime. With so many different types of films crammed into one relatively simple storyline, it’s no wonder that “The Lookout” struggles to transcend the almost-great-but-not-quite mediocrity that tends to characterize films released during the aforementioned post-Oscar dump season. But at least the trailer is good.