Sunday, April 25, 2010

Worst of the Worst: #14, Beyond A Reasonable Doubt

Every type of movie is represented in this list of the 100 worst movies of the last decade. There are dramas (Broken Bridges), period pieces (Pavilion of Women), gross-out comedies (Dirty Love), horror films (Thr3e), romantic comedies (Down to You), action films (Bloodrayne), sci-fi movies (Battlefield Earth), ___ Movie movies (thankfully done), Larry the Cable Guy movies (unfortunately haven't started on these yet). Beyond assuming the movie I'm about to watch is awful, I go into each with a preconcieved notion about the genre. For instance, I don't particularly like period pieces, so I was particularly dreading Pavilion of Women. Tonight, I watched my first movie from the list that fell under the category of courtroom drama and that brought with it a different bias.

I love courtroom dramas. I don't know if it's the inherent tension of the cross-examination or the idea that what is at stake is always immediately clear. A Few Good Men ranked #3 on my favorite movies of all time (links to the list on the left) and I go crazy for everything from classics (12 Angry Men, To Kill A Mockingbird) to even little court scenes at the end of movies (The Untouchables, Pleasantville). So I will be biased towards a courtroom drama and my review of this movie should be seasoned by that grain of salt.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is a movie from July of last year, starring Jesse Metcalfe (some kid from Desperate Housewives), Amber Tamblyn (some kid from Joan of Arcadia), and Michael Douglas. I was surprised to learn that this was a remake of a classic 1950s film noir thriller, because the premise is ridiculous. In Shreveport, the DA (Douglas) is winning murder case after murder case and about to run for governor. A reporter (Metcalfe) is almost positive that these convictions are being won with planted evidence. In order to expose the DA, the reporter finds a random murder and frames himself so that the DA will plant evidence and the reporter can prove that everything is a fake. Meanwhile, he's dating someone who works for the DA and she has to decide whether he really committed the murder or not. To add to the intrigue, there are three major plot twists: one which is merely head-scratching, one which is pure deus ex machina, and one which is obvious from approximately the first minute of the movie.

Even though the movie takes place in Louisiana, not one character talks with even the slightest Louisiana accent, with the exception of a detective played by Orlando Jones, who acts so much better than everyone else in his few scenes that he seems out of place in the movie. To be sure, the acting is bad. The two main actors are too young to take seriously in their roles and Douglas displays a gravitas which is inappropriate for the rest of the film. The side actors, those with only one or two lines, really stand out for their failure to seem like they're doing anything except reading cue cards.

The real loser here is the script. There's a great moment in one of this past Thursday's 30 Rock episodes when Liz rolls her eyes so dramatically that they get stuck. That's how I felt with some of the back-and-forth dialogue here. The characters almost stumble over each over to deliver their bad lines, leading to conversations that involve a rapid succession of crap, as if someone had built a machine gun that fired cheese and had opened up on the audience. I love great last lines, such as in Casablanca or Chinatown, and Hollywood needs to create a special award for the last line from this movie (actual quote): "I don't have anything more to say to you. [pause] Oh wait, I thought of something. Fuck you."

Having said all that (!), the movie is still a courtroom drama and I still get a little geeked up for the courtroom scenes, even if everything about them is weak. No doubt, it's a bad movie. I thought at one point that it wasn't so bad, only to realize that much, much less time had passed than I had thought. In addition, the worst part of the movie is the last third, so it builds you up to a point of relative pleasant surprise, only to make you crash harder. Granted that I understand that the movie's position on the list is based on its Rotten Tomatoes score and not some subjective ranking, but is it the 14th worst movie of the last ten years? Maybe it's my bias, but there's no way.

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