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TV actor makes good in ‘Lookout’

Glorying in 'Glory'


LOOK OUT: Gordon-Levitt is here.
  • LOOK OUT: Gordon-Levitt is here.

The perennial curse of the TV actor is the glass ceiling that separates him from the legitimacy (and larger paychecks) of a solid film career. Few TV actors are able to break that ceiling, and most who do normally do it by scrabbling their way up through summer action or slapstick comedy flicks that they risk clinging to for the rest of their careers. Few get to be George Clooney, and even George Clooney had to be Batman before he became George Clooney.

It’s remarkable, then, to see a skinny kid from a second-rate sitcom grow into his own and make a seemingly effortless transition into heavyweight cinematic drama, and that’s precisely what Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the star of “The Lookout,” has done — and this time out, he’s arguably the best thing about a film that has much to recommend it.

Gordon-Levitt, who spent his puberty on NBC’s “Third Rock from the Sun,” made his mark as a formidable actor almost immediately after leaving TV behind with career-building performances in dramas like 2004’s “Mysterious Skin” and the soon-to-be film noir classic “Brick.” In “The Lookout,” he plays Chris, a former high school hockey star who suffers massive brain damage from a car accident and is left all but helpless, trying to relearn how to live his life on his own.

Chris takes a job as the night janitor of a small bank in the hopes of one day becoming a teller and beginning the uphill climb of building a normal life. He lives with Lewis (Jeff Bridges), a blind man who regularly drills him on the fundamentals of getting through now-complicated tasks like cooking dinner or describing the events of his day.

But it’s when he makes a new friend (Gary, played by Matthew Goode) that he’s offered a fast track back to some semblance of control: Help me rob your bank, Gary offers, and a new life will be yours to explore. Now Chris has within reach all the things he used to have — money, control, even a newfound love — and finds himself overwhelmed by the choice.

The drama and struggle of Chris’ daily existence is engrossing and compelling despite its small scale, but the script alone, though good, isn’t enough to take the credit for this. Gordon-Levitt plays the upheaval of Chris’ brain beautifully — now subtle and understated, now tormented and out of control. If he keeps giving us performances like this, he’ll cement a reputation as one of the better actors of his generation in no time flat.

He doesn’t carry the movie alone, however. The actors perform very well across the board, with the possible exception of Isla Fisher, who plays the part of Chris’ new love interest a little too cute. Writer/director Scott Frank’s script is solid and engaging and well directed, though tarred by an ending that’s far too tidy for my taste. It’s not enough to ruin the movie, but it does make for a noticeable letdown after ratcheting up some damn fine white-knuckle tension.

— Matthew Reed

Seeking ‘Glory’

As much as I like the months before Oscar season, when the studios trot out their big, star-studded thoroughbreds, I’m always glad to see them go come spring. Spring and summer are the seasons of rebirth and life, a time for the studios to field the stupidest, most expensive movies imaginable.

When it comes to the post-Oscar Stupid Season — stupid good, not stupid bad — 2007 starts off with a doozy: the great new comedy “Blades of Glory.” Full of the same kind of seemingly mindless humor that made “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” a hit, it’s the perfect way to kick your brainwaves into low gear for the hot-’n’-miserable months ahead.

Will Ferrell plays Chazz Michael Michaels, a sex-addicted lump of chest hair and leather who rose from the hardcore Detroit sewer-skating scene to become one of the top male figure skaters in the world. Michaels’ arch-enemy is flamboyant pretty boy Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder), a former orphan plucked from obscurity by a billionaire benefactor bent on achieving athletic perfection for anyone by himself.

After Michaels and MacElroy tie for first at the world figure skating finals, jostling on the podium leads to a massive catfight, a pseudo-Olympic mascot with third degree burns, and a lifetime ban for both. Three years later, however, MacElroy’s former stalker approaches with an interesting bit of news: Nothing in the rules says that MacElroy can’t compete in pairs figure skating. With only a month until qualifying, however, MacElroy is forced to do the unthinkable: take on his drunken former rival to become the world’s first male-male pairs figure skating team.

This is to the chagrin of Fairchild and Stranz Von Waldenberg (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler), an evil brother and sister pairs team bent on staying No. 1. With the help of a crazed former coach (Craig T. Nelson) and a signature move so deadly that it had heretofore only been seen in skating gulags behind the Iron Curtain, Michaels and MacElroy set out to win the respect of fans and each other.

Will Ferrell turns scene after scene into a laugh-out-loud comedy gem. His blow-dried creep-with-a-heart-of-gold Michaels is the perfect foil for Heder’s needy but equally vain MacElroy. Add to that some genuinely hilarious sight gags (the funniest of which is the accidental decapitation of a North Korean skater while trying to perform the deadly “Iron Lotus”) and you wind up with one of the funniest films to come out in quite a while.

— David Koon

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