By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Juror helps solve case.
Kathleen Riley (Cher) is a public defender who suddenly finds herself embroiled in what initially seems like an open-and-shut case. She’s been hired to defend Carl (Liam Neeson) a Vietnam Veteran who through illness is now both deaf and mute and living on the city streets as a homeless vagrant. He was caught near the body of a former file clerk to the justice department whose corpse was found floating near the Potomac River. As the case progresses Kathleen finds an unusual ally in Eddie (Dennis Quaid) who is one of the jurors on the case and who does some investigating of his own only to dig up evidence that points to the murder being connected to a top ranking political figure (Phillip Bosco).
The film starts out well and has all the ingredients of being a crafty court battle wrapped around an intricate mystery, but unlike most other courtroom dramas this one is not based on a novel written by an author with a legal background. Instead the story was penned directly for the screen by Eric Roth, who’s had plenty of success in his own right, but no expertise in legal proceedings, which would explain why this would-be drama ultimately becomes implausible and over-the-top.
The biggest problem I had was trying to understand why a juror would go so out of his way to investigate a case on his own. Nothing about the character’s background revealed a personality trait that would make him want to do this and if anything working as a lobbyist seemed to make him more of an opportunist than a truth seeker. The character was initially reluctant to even fulfill his jury duty requirement, so why does he suddenly make a 180 degree turn and spend his free time going into dangerous areas of the city simply to help solve a case that he has no emotional attachment to whatsoever? The concept makes no sense and is also illegal. The story would’ve been more believable had the character been a young member of Riley’s legal team and in an effort to prove himself went out of his way to find clues that would help solve the case.
The fact that the victim’s car remains impounded in the lot where she last parked it and never towed away even well after she had been murdered seems equally implausible as does the fact that Riley nor the police don’t think to search it until the case is almost over. There is also another scene where Eddie, in an effort to get out of the hotel room after the jury has been sequestered, puts a flame to a fire alarm to make it go off and thus create enough diversion to allow him to leave the building undetected, which he does, but it never shows how he is able to get back into his room undetected, which most likely could prove just as dicey.
Yet despite all these other issues, it is actually the theatrical, Hollywood-like court room showdown at the end that is the most absurd and relies too much on extreme circumstance and coincidence for it to be even remotely believable. Katherine’s foot chase through the darkened corridors of the court building by a shadowy figure is equally out-of-place and better suited for a thriller.
Cher is okay in a role that seemed to be stretching her acting range, but the fact that a juror feeds her all the clues and does almost all the investigative legwork that either her or her legal team should’ve done initially makes her character look lazy, sloppy and incompetent.
John Mahoney is effective as the stern, grim-faced judge and Liam Neeson does well cast in role that has no speaking lines, but his character doesn’t get shown enough and there are long stretches where he isn’t seen and the viewer almost forgets all about him. The segment though where Riley asks him if he committed the murder as he is sitting on the stand and his face goes from pale white to beet red in a matter of seconds is probably the film’s best moment.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: October 23, 1987
Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute
Director: Peter Yates
Studio: TriStar Pictures
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube