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Hope and Heist

"The Lookout" is a good story that hung out with the wrong crowd.

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Without casting stones at individuals, let's just say some people make good Hollywood movies, and some people make movies based on reality. The two don't go well together, not even in "The Lookout," about a man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who gets caught up with the wrong people. You could say the same about the movie, which tries to meld a personal-survival story with a heist movie, with mixed results.

When Chris (Gordon-Levitt) was young, he was the hometown hero of the high-school hockey team and scion of a wealthy car-dealership empire. A born winner, he ruins his chances at a stellar normal life one spring night during a joy ride with friends. There's a terrible accident, and we are reintroduced to Chris in a state of purgatory, shuffling around town and getting used to the drudgery of being disabled. Chris, once brilliant with a puck on the ice, can barely tie his shoelaces, can't open a can of tomatoes and has so much trouble remembering things he must write down the steps to the simplest tasks.

For a while, "The Lookout" seems intent on taking you through a quiet personal salvation in which a will to carry on is entwined with hopelessness. Chris has visions of his ex, and lives with a blind man (Jeff Daniels) who is a little too insightful for his character's own good. The inevitable conflict is not as predictable, but much more difficult to swallow. Chris meets a local small-time hood (Matthew Goode) who's been casing Chris' night job at the local bank. A hiss-inspiring Iago wanna-be, he preys on Chris' insecurity and builds up a desire to take back his life. "Whoever has the money has the power," he tells Chris in a scene that probably echoes the convictions of everyone involved with the production.

Gordon-Levitt, boyishly lean but with a seriousness that fleshes out the role, has been kicking around the indie world for a while in a number of movies, some good ("Brick") and some not so good ("Mysterious Skin"). Here he's found himself somewhere in the middle, which is maybe not a bad place to be for his career.

The rest of us may feel a little cheated. Stories with great characters like Chris don't need to be dressed up with shootouts any more than they need to satisfy every yearned-for conclusion available in the plot, as "The Lookout" tries to do. Plainly the movie, entertaining but too facile to be taken seriously, got involved with the wrong people. (R) 99 min. ** S

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