(Jon Amiel, USA, 1999)


Some films exist only for the sake of a single, key, featured image or spectacle – with further details of plot and characterisation serving mainly to fill in the remaining running time.

In Entrapment, the starring image is surely that of Gin (Catherine Zeta-Jones) threading her slinky, balletic way through a maze of criss-crossing laser beams in order to reach a coveted, antique Chinese mask under maximum security – with her mentor in crime, Mac (Sean Connery), off to one side barking expert instructions.

Director Jon Amiel (Copycat [1995], Sommersby [1993]) is clearly so fond of this set-piece he repeats it several times – showing us both the arduous rehearsals and the main event.

For some obscure reason, thrilling heist capers involving artworks, antiques and precious jewels tend to invite a comic and romantic treatment from filmmakers. Particularly since Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955), glamorous master criminals on screen like to skip through a tango of mutual seduction, scheming and betrayal as they size up the best way to sneak into a seemingly impenetrable fortress.

Gin is introduced as a workaholic law enforcer, keen to attach the latest grand theft to that ageing ace, Mac. So she goes undercover in order to lure him into complicity, and together they plan a series of thrilling escapades. Mac ensures that the sexual tension will run high by forbidding, at the outset, any personal intrusion into their professional relationship.

Suffice to say, the plot is full of moderately surprising twists and revelations. To spice up proceedings, Amiel, with writers Ron Bass and William Broyles, work in snazzy references to computer systems, the Asian economy and the millennium changeover.

In case it all starts to seem soulless and coldly materialist, Mac is also equipped with a sensitive love of art and a fantastic private gallery of stolen masterpieces (“Just for me, not for the money”, he gravely intones).

Entrapment is a pleasantly mindless diversion. Amiel’s crafty skill resembles that of John Badham (War Games [1983], Stakeout [1987]) whenever he painstakingly focuses on the sensual gleam and whirr of high-tech, break-and-enter equipment; or when he gives the secondary players (Ving Rhames, Will Patton, Maury Chakin) some stern, hard-boiled business to perform.

But, more gamely and delightfully, Amiel’s style reaches to Mission: Impossible (1996) heights of improbability whenever its stars begin suddenly appearing and disappearing through dark or momentarily obscured spaces.

It is clearly not enough, these days, if you want to be a master crim, to look like a supermodel, behave like Cary Grant, be a brilliant hacker and move like Houdini: a little magic seals the deal every time.

MORE Amiel: Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, Queen of Hearts

© Adrian Martin July 1999

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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