entrap2I always love when they break out the cool gadgets in movies like Entrapment. Here is a computer-controlled cord precisely calibrated to drop a person down the side of a building and gently slow him down to exactly where he needs to be. Here also is a hand-held device for decoding a security system, and a long, thin pair of cutters with a penlight attached — perfect for those occasions when you need to snip an alarm wire in back of a painting. Do these gizmos actually exist in real life? I have no idea, but damn it, they look cool.

So do Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Entrapment is clearly meant to be an old-school, stylish caper movie in which we watch cool people doing cool things (hey, it worked for The Matrix). Such a movie hardly needs a plot; all we really want is to watch the anti-heroes prepare for the caper, do the caper, and get away with it. But the people behind Entrapment — director Jon Amiel, writers Ron Bass and William Broyles — seem to think we need a lot of twists and turns and double-crosses. That’s not necessary. Sometimes cool people with cool gadgets are enough for a spring-afternoon piece of Hollywood entertainment.

Connery is Robert “Mac” MacDougall, a legendary thief who apparently has the ability to materialize and dematerialize at will (if so, you wonder why he needs all the gadgets to break into buildings). One night he materializes in the hotel room of Virginia Baker (Zeta-Jones), an investigator who’s been itching to catch him. Virginia is also, as it happens, not too shabby in the thievery department herself; she proposes that they team up to steal a priceless Chinese mask, and then take advantage of the impending Y2K shutdown on “Millennium Midnight” (the movie is erroneously said to take place “days before the millennium,” though smart people know the millennium doesn’t actually begin until January 1, 2001).

Part of the fun of Entrapment is watching old pro Connery and relative newcomer Zeta-Jones interact — the twilight of a seasoned star meets the dawn of a fresh one. Connery has the weight of authority and experience, and he’s amusing here when he grows impatient with his protegé (or backs away from her romantic advances), or when he’s posing as a harmless tourist snapping pics of the Kuala Lampur bank the thieves have targeted for their $8 billion caper. Zeta-Jones has beauty and brains, plus a spark of wit, but she needs better scripts. In this movie and The Mask of Zorro she’s proven she can be a movie star, but time will tell whether she can be an actress to contend with, given richer material.

Besides the gadgetry, the best part of Entrapment is the middle section, when Mac trains Virginia. She has to writhe and curl across a room, avoiding red strands of yarn standing in for the laserbeams guarding the mask; she goes through other preparations we don’t fully understand until the actual caper. To me, the bulk of the movie should have been the training, and the climax should have been the theft of the mask (though there are some deft moments of tension in the later bank caper). The movie runs on a bit longer than it should, with double-crosses inside double-crosses; it’s a little too plot-heavy.

Jon Amiel should have trusted the charisma of his two leads. Entrapment gets by well enough on style and star chemistry and the basic allure of watching a tightly-planned caper unfold. Simply a half hour of set-up, a half hour of training, and a half hour of the caper itself would have sufficed. Some might also throw in a half hour of Catherine Zeta-Jones writhing under the yarn, but let’s not go there.

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