If The Lookout didn’t star Brick’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt as yet another guilt-riden quester, if it wasn’t another one of those memory-loss thrillers in which the protagonist has to write lots of things down, if it hadn’t followed Fargo and A Simple Plan in its chilly Midwestern locales, it would be, you know, pretty decent. Perhaps bitching about this neonoir’s derivativeness is beside the point. Here is a sympathetic schmo-hero (Gordon-Levitt)—not your average cartoon Spartan but a former varsity stud whose high-school reign vanished in the devastation of a severe auto accident. Here is a lovely femme fatale (Wedding Crashers’ kooky Isla Fisher), luring him into the wrong crowd. Here is a bank heist gone wrong. It could be worse.
And still, coming from scripter Scott Frank (stepping behind the camera for the first time), the disappointment curdles. Frank made his name as an Elmore Leonard specialist, bringing out the best of directors with diamond-hard scripts for Out of Sight and Get Shorty. The guy knows from pacing and dialogue. Alas, The Lookout feels marinated in one too many drafts and concessions, well executed but almost robotic in its writerly “indieness.” Like Frank’s brain-damaged hero, we’re supposed to forget the film’s essential blandness, even as it waves that most hoary of conventions in our faces: the blind best friend with wisdom (Daniels). There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, and even the pleasant hum of a well-tuned engine begins to drone a little. Compared with, say, screenwriter Shane Black’s dazzling directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it’s way too smooth a cruise. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — Joshua Rothkopf