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Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005 08:45 am

Rosemary’s nephew

How George Clooney became a star

It was obvious that George Clooney belonged in movies as soon as he burst upon the scene as Ace, an emergency-room technician, in E/R. Have I confused anyone yet? This was back in 1984, 10 years before the better-known ER hit television, and the failure of Elliott Gould’s sitcom didn’t exactly boost Clooney’s career. Clooney’s subsequent movie roles in Return to Horror High (1987) and Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988) did little to raise his image beyond being Rosemary Clooney’s nephew. Bouncing around in other sitcoms didn’t help, either. Does anyone remember Clooney’s brief stints in The Facts of Life and Roseanne? The actor really paid his dues, and the huge success of ER catapulted him to the position of one of Hollywood’s premier stars. He deserves it. His Golden Globe-nominated role in Syriana proves that he can step into a darker character role with ease. Clooney’s world-weary CIA operative is the highlight of this overly convoluted would-be thriller about oil intrigue in the Mideast — it’s a pity the whole film isn’t about his character. The violent crime/horror hybrid From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) no doubt surprised his new legion of ER fans, who probably expected a more likable movie for Clooney’s first “big star” outing. Clooney costarred with Quentin Tarantino as bank-robber brothers who have the misfortune of choosing as their hideout a vampire bar, and his commanding presence pushed the film beyond its genre conventions. After some forgettable films, he returned to the crime genre in the movie adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Out of Sight (1998), a lazy comedy-thriller that may be too character-driven for its own good. His witty portrayal of a career criminal who becomes involved with a federal marshal forms the film’s core, and the pair’s relationship does generate sparks. The whole, however, is less than the sum of its parts. Clooney is generally better than the films he’s in, but his next starring role gave him a truly great film. Three Kings (1999), part war adventure and part satire, may resonate more today than it did when it was released. Clooney leads a group of American soldiers in post-Gulf War Iraq on a quest for a cache of gold. Director David O. Russell seamlessly blends all the disparate elements into a modern classic that challenges our perceptions of America’s involvement in that region. If only Syriana were so potent. New releases on DVD on Tuesday (Dec. 27): Dark Water, Into the Blue, Undiscovered, 2046, Grizzly Man, and The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.
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