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MOVIE REVIEW

'Lookout' makes good on small promises

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (center) and Matthew Goode play former school friends out to rob a bank in "The Lookout." (Allen Fraser/Miramax Films)

A modestly effective thriller about a lost boy who falls in with a nasty pack of bank robbers, "The Lookout " promises minor pleasures and delivers them. In the process, it's gracious enough to kick in a few extras: a nifty central gimmick, a self-effacing lead performance, and a big slice of ham from supporting actor Jeff Daniels .

We've seen rich high school kid Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt ) live fast and almost die young in the film's eerie opening scene, and as the story proper begins, he's still dealing with the consequences of a massive head injury four years later. In particular, Chris has difficulty "sequencing" -- remembering in what order to do things. This makes opening a can of tomatoes a psychological obstacle course, one of hundreds he faces every day.

Chris goes to therapy sessions, shares an apartment with a sardonic blind man named Lewis (Daniels ), and cleans the floors at a small-town bank. Guilt, lost glory, and a cold businessman father (Bruce McGill ) combine to send him into the hands of Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode ), a former school chum turned very bad man. Gary and his friends want to rob Chris's bank, and they need his help.

That's it, pretty much. "The Lookout" has the economy and some of the artistry of a low-budget thriller from the '50s: a curt acknowledgement that blood will out and you might as well pay attention to the characters.

There are four of any consequence. Goode's Gary is an insinuating barroom charmer with flashes of violence just under the surface. It's hard to believe Goode is British, since there are guys like Gary waiting to beat you up in pool halls across America.

Isla Fisher , the sweet nutcase from "Wedding Crashers ," plays an ex-stripper who holds on to her stage name like a security blanket -- Luvlee Lemons (it may be the only creative thing she has done in her life). Gary uses her to seduce Chris, and Fisher gives the character a dim, honest integrity, as if the old film noir moll Gloria Grahame had been reborn as a pole dancer.

Daniels just has fun as Lewis, a character who gets all the good lines and knows it. Blind though he is, Lewis has seen plenty and not even a shotgun stuck in his face fazes him. That's a B-movie conceit, but, look, it's a B-movie.

Maybe that's why Gordon-Levitt looks confused, though, as if he expected this movie to be the next "Memento " and therefore a logical progression from his 2006 arthouse hit "Brick ." Or maybe he's just getting inside Chris's fractured head. The actor gives a tight, unshowy performance but it only comes to life in the final scenes, when everything hinges on Chris getting a lot of complicated things in order or else.

The writer-director is Scott Frank , a screenwriter of "Minority Report ," "Get Shorty ," and many other films , who here steps behind the camera for the first time. If he has consciously created a story line so simple it ultimately seems undercooked, that may just be part of the learning curve.

He probably knows "The Lookout" will look just fine when you stumble up on it on late-night cable a few months from now. And he gets enough right here that whatever he does next, some of us will be paying attention.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

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