Apart from being a bleak and icy piece of neo-noir, "The Lookout" is a new opportunity for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to show that little Tommy Solomon is dead and buried forever.
The former kiddie player from the TV sitcom "3rd Rock from the Sun" has been wowing the art-house crowd as of late with his dynamic turns in "Mysterious Skin" and last year's "Brick." With "Lookout," indie film's latest boy wonder gets the chance to rivet audiences with another complex role.
He's Chris Pratt, a one-time high-school hockey champ who, thanks to a careless car accident that left two of his friends dead and his then-girlfriend without a leg, is now mentally impaired. Still considered a hero in his hometown, he gets by, taking a job as the night janitor of a bank and rooming with a wisecracking, independent blind man (Jeff Daniels, looking like a lost Allman brother).
The lost, lonely Pratt begins to feel like his old self again when he starts hanging out with old school acquaintance Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode). His confidence is boosted even further when Spargo hooks him up with heart-of-gold ex-stripper Luvlee Lemons ("Wedding Crashers" scene-stealer Isla FIsher). But all this ego-stroking and babe-dangling is just a ruse to lure Pratt into Spargo's plan for him and his shady gang to rob Pratt's bank, where he's to be -- well, see the title.
"The Lookout" does seem like the most skewered tale of perseverance and overcoming impossible odds you may ever witness. It's modern-day pulp with a TV-movie, ailment-of-the-week twist: Its lead character overcomes his mental shortcomings by attempting to outwit gun-toting bank robbers. This certainly sounds more novel and intriguing than watching another inspirational sports movie like "Pride."
So, it's unfortunate when writer/director Scott Frank loses his grip halfway through and turns the movie into another eventual, heist-gone-wrong flick set in an eternally snowy town. Man, ever since "Fargo" made it cool to set quirky crime dramas in wintry locales, a movie like this comes along every two years. (Alar Kivilo, the cinematographer for the chilly crime stories "A Simple Plan" and "The Ice Harvest," was also cinematographer for "Lookout.")
Frank, who successfully adapted the Elmore Leonard novels "Get Shorty" and "Out of Sight" for the big screen, starts off thinking ambitiously, then quickly delves into the inevitable for his directorial debut. He spends most of the first half trying to distinguish his film from the rest of the punky, post-modern, pulp pack -- and yet, that's what ends up happening. It's bad enough the movie is a murkier, less excruciating version of the Ben Affleck-Charlize Theron actioner "Reindeer Games" (another snow-drenched heist flick).
Well, at least "The Lookout" has Gordon-Levitt turning out an able-bodied performance. (It even seems like he's emulating Keanu Reeves a bit in his portrayal of a man with half his IQ intact.) If he keeps this up, the thought of him trading cheesy one-liners with an scenery-chomping John Lithgow will be the last thing on people's minds when they see him on-screen. Maybe.
Staff writer Craig D. Lindsey can be reached at 829-4760, firstname.lastname@example.org or blogs.newsobserver.com/unclecrizzle.