really don’t enjoy reading reviews that are reactions to other reviews rather than the film itself. I enjoy writing them even less. But I found myself battling with that as I tried to get my thoughts together on Scott Frank’s directorial debut The Lookout. There’s a good bit of praise coming from the critical sector, although when it’s Peter Travers and Richard Roeper spearheading it, there’s a fairly large margin of error. I can see why somebody might be fooled into thinking this is somehow worthy. You have all of the ingredients for both a good character drama and a decent heist flick in place here, but they just don’t come together in any sort of coherent way. Despite very good efforts from virtually the entire cast, Frank’s film falls flat (say that fast 50 times or so. I dare you) because as soon as the cast gets close to moving beyond archetypes into actual characters, they get waylaid by an on-rails third act that ensures that all of the familiar heist film beats happen no matter how badly they fit in the hour or so that preceded them. This is ostensibly a hybrid of the heist film with a different sort of character drama, but the two styles never mesh here and, frankly, neither one is individually interesting enough to merit a feature length film.

The character drama part is, of course, centered on Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Chris Pratt, a popular young jock living an ideal teen lifestyle somewhere in the Midwest. We begin by watching him joyride one night with some friends. As he guns his convertible and turns the headlights off to highlight a swarm of fireflies in a severely misguided attempt at romance, he plows right into a stalled piece of farm equipment laying out on the road. Chris survives the accident, but now he has severe brain damage that leaves him unable to remember things correctly or even reason how to accomplish basic tasks. Although you may start thinking Memento with this plot device, the film doesn’t have the chops to start playing fast and loose with perspective or chronology, so we’re almost never less than sure of what’s going, when it happened, what’s real, and so on. Sorry to dash your hopes.

Most of the rest of the film centers on the dreary existence Chris endures. He’s reduced to janitorial work at a local bank, which he can’t accomplish without a written list. His only real friend is his blind roommate, Lewis (Jeff Daniels), a witty and shrewd gent that is continually underestimated due to his physical appearance closely resembling a composite of all five Beach Boys circa 1970. But it’s not long before Chris meets the two individuals that will change his life: Gary (Matthew Goode doing about as great a depiction of a lowlife American as I’ve seen a Brit do in sometime) and a beguiling young ex-stripper who goes by the name of Luvlee (Isla Fisher).

Gary, of course, is the nefarious hood who wants to suck Chris into his bank robbery schemes, and Goode’s effortless charm (and flawless American accent) go a long way into making Chris’ being tempted by his offer believable. The added incentive is Luvlee, who – wouldn’t you know it – has ties to Gary and seems in on both the proposed bank robbery caper and the caper to manipulate Chris. Unfortunately for Fisher, Frank never seems to figure out what Luvlee is doing in the film, so the movie abandons her figuratively with a thinly-drawn character and then literally as she disappears from the film before the third act begins never to be seen again. She’s not killed or anything. She just goes away because there’s nothing else for her to do in the script, and anything you invest in Fisher’s sweet, sexy, and shady portrayal is wasted. I wouldn’t have minded if she actually had to make some kind of choice between Chris or Gary or any sort of real impact in the film at all, but she gets a ridiculous amount of screentime for a character that serves no real purpose. It’s great that so much of it is Fisher in scantily-dressed mode as she truly is smoking hot, but why have any pretensions of Luvlee being anything more than T&A? She just ain’t. Carla Gugino suffers a similar fate as a counselor to Chris that gets a few scenes in the first act as one of the few people trying to make a genuine connection with him. Two hot chicks. Two pointless characters.

The film doesn’t really value any of the characters except for Chris and Gary, but once the heist begins, Gary becomes a garden-variety hood and Chris becomes an average action hero whose condition barely factors into how he deals with his crises. If the heist portion had been more interesting, this might have been less noticeable, but this is about as predictable as you can imagine, down to the security guard/rent-a-cop who doesn’t quite act as they planned and the evil-looking heist gang member who seems less interested in the money than he is in pumping people full of lead.

The Lookout is really most notable because of the missed opportunities. At every turn, there’s potential for characters to surprise you or for the film to explore Chris’ condition in new and interesting ways, and watching Frank drop the ball over and over again is more engrossing than anything the film has to offer on its own. For a lot of the running time, I thought the film was so predictable as to set up a firecracker of a plot twist, but no such luck. And some of you won’t want to believe this or you’ll have to see it for yourself, and I understand that. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the most interesting actors of his generation, and he’s surrounded by a great supporting cast and an interesting premise here. Surely that’s worth the price of admission alone, even if the execution is shaky? And if you don’t mind seeing all of that wasted as Daniels, Levitt, Goode, and Fisher flop about trying to create substance where there is none, maybe it is. But any satisfaction I got from their valiant attempts was far outweighed by disappointment at just how generic and small-scale the rest of the film is.

5 out of 10