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Shadow of Doubt
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Snoozer of a Legal Thriller"
1 stars

It should come as no surprise that this sucker went straight to video, which at least spared cineplexes from having to wash the stink from it afterward.

The courtroom whodunit Shadow of Doubt is not to be confused with Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt by any stretch, for the underwhelming screenplay and undistinguished directing render it as uninteresting and negligible as Hitchcock's was entertaining and witty. Clearly influenced by the box-office hit Basic Instinct six years prior, it opens with kinky sex and then vicious post-coital murder, with the main suspect arrested and charged with the crime the surviving sex partner. Of course, with the lack of motivation ascribed to him, we know he's a red herring, otherwise the movie would have no point; so three other suspects are introduced into the mix, two of whom are painted in too negative a light, thus ensuring their innocence in Movieland, so if you can't guess who's the throat-slashing culprit, well, you probably haven't seen more than five movies of this type. But predictability isn't always detrimental if the means employed in getting us from one point to the other is done with some panache: unfortunately, the story construction is strictly mediocre, and the execution by veteran director Randal Kleiser, who's done everything from Grease to The Blue Lagoon to Honey I Blew Up the Kid, and whose first thriller this is, is lackluster in the extreme -- the movie keeps promising tawdriness and suspense without actually delivering any, and we're left wishing, even taking into account their deficiencies, Instinct screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and director Paul Verhoeven had burned the midnight oil instead. (At least we wouldn't be on the brink of dozing when we're supposed to be tantalized.) The murder victim is the sexually-promiscuous daughter of a politically-influential philanthropist currently backing and bankrolling the most popular Democratic senator in the country who's a cinch for the party's presidential nomination and who had a close relationship with the victim. Melanie Griffith plays ace defense attorney Kitt Devereux, employed by the up-and-coming video-artist suspect's record company to represent him, and Tom Berenger is Los Angeles assistant district attorney Jack Campioni, a close friend of the senator prosecuting the high-profile case. In an attempt to add spice to the mix, Kitt and Jack used to be married, with the ambitious Jack slated to serve as the country's attorney general should the senator win the presidency, so, of course, they'll soon be sparring in the courtroom. There's also the resurfacing of a weirdo rapist who Kitt once defended, had an affair with midway through trial before he confessed his guilt to her at pillow-side, and wound up pressing assault charges against after she got him acquitted.

Nothing inherently wrong with these bare ingredients, mind you, but the screenplay doesn't develop them nearly enough -- they're merely pieces mechanically incorporated just to jerk us around, minus any enjoyably-manipulative snap and precision. (The two screenwriters, Myra Byanka and Raymond De Felitta, show very little passion, not to mention, respect, for their profession.) Maybe if there were some charge to the courtroom scenes we could take some pleasure in watching two fascinating legal minds with a personal history matching wits (like the Gene Hackman/Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio father/daughter pairing in Class Action), but they're burdened with flatness in both the dialogue and staging. And it doesn't help that Griffith and Berenger, two previously interesting talents who used to work for a living, give lethargic performances with nary an inkling of surprise -- they seem to be reading their lines off a teleprompter before having their morning cup of joe. (Former pop singer Huey Lewis, as Kitt's loyal private investigator, and Wade Dominguez, as the chief suspect, are the only ones putting in any effort.) Numerous logic loopholes abound. There's a dumb sequence where Kitt is stalked at a downtown office building late at night with the stalker waiting in a stall in the ladies room even though there's no way he could know Kitt would go in there. Kitt keeps getting harassing phone calls at home from the rapist yet never bothers to change her number. Kitt has a Doberman for home protection yet apparently hasn't bothered to have a security-alarm system installed. (The screenwriters, in addition to the characters, make the dog dumb, too, with it refusing to attack an intruder once he's inside.) And so they can later serve as plot twists, both a necklace and computer files are conveniently overlooked at the crime scene. We wouldn't be quite so aware and unforgiving of all this if the movie wasn't so boring. Kleiser shows way too much taste for what is basically trashy material, nondescriptly going about his business transitioning from one scene to another without any semblances of dramatic shaping; and with his stunted visual sense (it's a sterile-looking production sans expressive imagery) and slack editing rhythms (it's like an episode of the '80s television series L.A. Law with blood and nudity) we almost wish the movie were flat-out atrociously made so at least we could have something distinctive to respond to. Enervating, devoid of ingenuity, Shadow of Doubt is like a third-rate legal thriller concocted by a John Grisham while riding the ultimate codeine buzz.

Deserves a stiff sentencing.

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originally posted: 08/29/12 02:02:14
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9/06/12 Albert Awful 1 stars
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  01-Jan-1998 (R)
  DVD: 13-Mar-2001



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