There are few movie experiences more pleasurable than that of watching a man and a woman collaborate on a luxury-item theft. It works every time: the glint of jewels, or art, or crisp stacks of bills. The strategy, so similar to seduction. It's heaven especially for ticket buyers starving on a diet of pandering teen comedies and noisy thrillers starring flashy special effects.
What the world needs now are more romantic capers. More movies about suave, beautiful men and women who live luxuriously, dress stylishly, and banter with sexy thrust-and-parry intelligence. We need more smart, adult entertaiment from moviemakers who understand that the thrill of the chase any worthwhile chase, whether to save the planet, steal millions, or get lucky in the sack involves more than naked breasts, blue-screen stunt work, and freewheeling use of the F-word.
Entrapment doesn't quite deliver on this gaping consumer need, but its heart is in the right vicinity. Director Jon Amiel's '90s take on a '60s cinematic form places a dashing man and a gorgeous woman in intimate cat-and-mouse situations of peril, sends them to exotic locations and then manufactures sparks (some involving blue-screen stunt work) when none are naturally forthcoming, even from stars as sleek as Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Connery is Robert ''Mac'' MacDougal; instead of ''License to Kill,'' his business card reads ''World's Greatest Art Thief.'' At the age of 60 (the actor himself is nearly a decade older), Mac may no longer be nimble, but he is quick, and innately debonair. (He is, after all, played by ageless Sean Connery, who also shares a producer credit.) Zeta-Jones previously ablaze in The Mask of Zorro is Virginia ''Gin'' Baker, an insurance investigator trying to trap Mac at his game with some fancy art-thievery tricks of her own, many of them involving gymnastic moves Alfred Hitchcock never thought to incorporate into To Catch a Thief.
As Mac and Gin team up on audacious heists distrustfully but in sinuous concert, each for hidden and mutable purposes Amiel and screenwriters Ron Bass and William Broyles Jr. move the action from a Scottish castle to London to those spectacular Malaysian erections, the Petronas Towers in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. In every venue, Mac and Gin names redolent of a Samuel Beckett one-acter circle and test; each, in turn, is geometrically involved with a handler or partner. (Gin reports to a shady boss played by professional shady man Will Patton; Mac does business with a wily cat named Thibadeaux, played jauntily by Ving Rhames.)
In the end, of course, what Mac and Gin are after hardly matters, although a trendy countdown-to-the-millennium subplot involving Y2K computer paranoia pushes our tolerance for capering to the limit. The two just need to look good, which they do: Zeta-Jones, in a brilliantly hued wardrobe, is the best advertisement for dumping black clothes since the auction of Princess Di's frocks. They're meant to exchange witty repartee, which they don't: The script is an unmellifluous hash of the prosaically obvious and the woodenly flip. ''I'm a thief. So sue me,'' says Mac. ''Mac, you're too old for this s---,'' says Thibadeaux, cribbing from that most literary oeuvre, the Lethal Weapon series. ''I hate alone. Alone sucks,'' says Gin, tossing off a punchline only Bette Davis could get away with.
Most of all, though, Mac and Gin are meant to sizzle together sexually. And this they most definitely do not, no matter how often she purrs at him. True, the 120-year age difference between the two is one stumbling block. To the film's credit (and the actor's dignity), Mac hurdles the yawning gap by refusing to be seduced, on the grounds that he never mixes business and pleasure.
Fair enough. Less fair is the hint that a weird father-daughter dynamic is in play something unspoken that goes way beyond the paternal glow of an old guy who's attracted to the soft skin of a young woman. Hitchcock would have known what to do in such a situation. This movie does not, which is why, when the caper tapers off, we're still left wanting to rent the old stuff, far from the teens and blue screens at a theater near us. C+