"The Outside Man"'s plot is simple: A French hit man (Jean-Louis Trantignant) travels to Los Angeles to kill a mobster. Upon completion of his assignment, he returns to his hotel to find he has been checked out and that his belongings (wallet and passport included) are gone. Upon leaving the hotel, he is ambushed by an American assassin (played with icy menace by Roy Scheider, a million miles from his "Jaws" sheriff), who has obviously been hired to kill him. After an exciting chase through the streets of L.A., and a brief respite in the apartment of a dippy widow and her smart-aleck son ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show"'s Georgia Engel and a very young Jackie Earle Haley), he contacts his boss and is told to find the boss's ex-moll Nancy Robson (Ann-Margret). He meets her in a topless bar and she agrees to help him get the hell out of Dodge. This sets up a series of chases and shootouts as she tries to help him leave town while he dodges Scheider's bullets.
Sure, this film is at times as trashy as it sounds. But it's also highly entertaining and has a top cast which also includes Angie Dickinson in the small role of the gangster's widow. In spite of the fact that he's playing a cold-blooded killer, Trantignant actually elicits a certain amount of audience sympathy and the mostly silent Scheider (who probably has five lines of dialog, total) is a hair-raising villain. Dickinson is appropriately shady and Engel at times very funny (and touching) as the victimized housewife. And then there's the eye-popping Ann-Margret, who I believe filmed this before her near-fatal Vegas accident: Her plunging neckline, blond wig and mini-dresses alone are worth the price of rental. Add at least two exciting extended chase sequences and a uniquely filmed shootout in a mortuary (where the mobster has been embalmed in a sitting position, cigar in hand) and you have a highly entertaining melodrama in which everyone eventually gets their comeuppance.
All-in-all, "The Outside Man" is a highly entertaining film lark from an era where films were actually distinguishable from each other, and didn't all look like yesterday's recycled trash. *** (out of *****)