The Lookout is a respectable directing debut by the veteran screenwriter of The Interpreter, Minority Report, Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Malice, etc., Scott Frank. Suffering brain damage in a car wreck four years earlier, still having trouble with his memory and his "sequencing" and his "disinhibition," writing memos to himself like the protagonist of Memento, holding down a dead-end job as the night custodian in a podunk Kansas bank, and replaying past glories on the high-school hockey rink with a "urinal puck" and a floor mop, the shaky young hero is preyed upon by a vamp-for-hire (stage name: Luvlee Lemons) at the bidding of a mangy gang of bank robbers. The only apparent obstacle in their way is the affable deputy who, like clockwork, stops by on his rounds with a box of donuts, and whose wife is ready to give birth any minute. (What odds would you take on him making it through alive?) Not overly contrived or clever, just sufficiently; no extraneous action to tide you over till hell breaks loose; well acted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels (as a wise and witty blind man), Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher, Bruce McGill, pretty much everyone.

First Snow is another directing debut by a screenwriter, albeit one with fewer credits to his name, Mark Fergus, about the futile struggle against fate of an unnecessarily unsympathetic hero, a fast-talking flooring salesman who wants to transition to jukeboxes. Belabored, unbelievable, but sizzlingly photographed in the Southwest desert by Eric Edwards, and played with strong conviction by Guy Pearce, Piper Perabo, William Fichtner, Rick Gonzalez, Jackie Burroughs, and especially, as an unshowy roadside fortune-teller, J.K. Simmons. Almost in spite of itself it works up some nice paranoiac suspense, stopping short of the hammy climax.

The Hoax, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, spins a tall tale about a tall tale, the bogus "authorized autobiography" of Howard Hughes, peddled by Clifford Irving to McGraw-Hill in the early Seventies. Richard Gere, as the hungering writer ("The middle of my life is at hand. I don't have a couch"), has some funny bits imitating Hughes's speech patterns from tapes of his appearance before the U.S. Senate, as you might recall from The Aviator. And the richly embroidered account of how the charade was set in motion, and then kept in motion even as it began to disintegrate, will serve as either a reminder or an appetizer, depending on your level of familiarity. It is not to be trusted beyond that.

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