Entrapment, an end-of-the-millenium thriller starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, promises to be a different kind of action movie – one that is character driven instead of plot driven. The only problem with it is that it doesn’t have any characters.

Connery plays Robert "Mac" MacDougal, reputedly the world’s greatest art thief. Mac differs from other master art thieves in that he has a genuine appreciation for the paintings that he steals. The authorities can’t even find – much less catch – this ascetic will o’ the wisp. Zeta-Jones plays insurance investigator Virginia "Gin" Baker, who convinces her boss to let her lay a trap for Mac. Posing as a fellow art thief, Gin entices Mac into joining forces with her in the theft of a priceless Chinese mask. Mac whisks her away to his Fortress of Solitude, a stunning castle dotted with Modiglianis from Mac’s past heists, where the two plan and rehearse their scheme.

Inevitably questions about Gin’s true motives arise: is she really trying to bust Mac or has she gone over to the other side? Just as inevitably, Mac and Gin are drawn to each other, but when Gin finally verbalizes the vibe that is hanging in the air between them, Mac lays down "The Rule": professionals do not get involved with each other – the job is everything. It is at this point that Entrapment runs into real trouble. When Gin asks Mac why The Rule has to run their relationship, Mac refuses to tell her – or us. Yet much of the movie is given over to close-ups of an anguished Mac as sensitive piano music tinkles in the background. This failure to explain, even in part, Mac’s solitary lifestyle keeps him from becoming anything more than a screenwriter’s conceit, as if his mere Sean Connery-ness can substitute for a character.

Once the mask is in their possession, the two turn their sights to really big game, a plan to break into the Kuala Lumpur offices of an organization that oversees international trade and, at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve 1999, take advantage of the computer’s Y2K conversion routine to download $8 billion into a private account. As their plans proceed, Gin’s character walks a tightrope that keeps Mac, her suspicious supervisor, and presumably some members of the audience guessing where her sympathies lie. The artificial double-crosses and plot twists pile up until the entire movie cancels itself out, and the audience is forced to seek diversion in the shots of Malaysian street life or Zeta-Jones’ ill-fitting trench coat.

Zeta-Jones has a real problem on her hands. She is sharing the screen with one of the most charismatic stars in recent cinema history. When Connery turns on that Zen-master shtick that he’s been polishing for twenty years, Zeta-Jones comes across like a bantamweight who’s been forced into the ring with Evander Holyfield. For once, the age difference between two stars is unbelievable not because the young woman would never want a man thirty years her senior, but because the young woman is so uninteresting that no experienced older man could stand to be around her very long.

Entrapment aspires to something higher than most current action movies, but it remains a light labor to sit through. The lack of any real wit – and wit is what makes good heist movies such great entertainment – has Entrapment trapped in a rut.

– Tom Block