January 2, 2015

Shadow Of Doubt

Shadow Of Doubt (102 minutes) 1997/Rated R – starring Melanie Griffith, Tom Berenger, Craig Sheffer, Huey Lewis, Wade Dominguez, John Ritter. Directed by Randal Kleiser. Released through Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video.

From the man who brought you the hideous decadence of “Grease,” the soft-core eroticism of “The Blue Lagoon,” and the ballistic pyrotechnics of “Pee-Wee’s Big-Top Adventure,” comes a taut, compelling, wrenching look at the hard-edged, ruthless world of criminals and courtrooms! Okay, so maybe they didn’t use a line quite like this in the trailer for this film, but “Shadow of Doubt” tries so eagerly to be gritty and hard-boiled, that it unfortunately comes across as sadly laughable in its overstrained efforts.

Melanie Griffith is a tenacious, high-priced defense attorney with a Martha Stewart coif out to represent the innocence of a rising star rapper accused of a brutal homicide. The murder of a billionaire’s daughter triggers a “Diagnosis Murder”-like, convoluted plot involving an aspiring senator, who is running for President, and a former psycho boyfriend as the two other likely suspects aside from the rap artist. Somewhere in here, director Kleiser manages to scotch-tape in the obligatory, kinky-sex-of-the-rich shots that every movie on Cinemax must contractually have in place in order to be aired after midnight. He allows the lighting department carte blanche to illuminate police interrogation rooms with garish, unmotivated purple and blue hues that renders the setting to appear vaguely like a high school production of “Cabaret.” And Kleiser stagnantly trains his camera on the most routine of shots inside a barebones courtroom for a trial that conveys as much tension as watching Chef Emeril determine whether to use the Remoudou or the Ramadoux cheese on his open pan pizza.

With nary an action sequence in the whole film, one is left with the thespian might of Melanie Griffith’s righteous attorney. Unfortunately, when she angrily peeps out lines like “I don’t play games, and I don’t respond to threats,” you might find yourself searching your room for a pierced balloon bleating high-pitched in the corner. Thankfully, John Ritter is on hand for a couple of cameos, playing a shifty councilman, whose two quick scenes serve no reason in driving the main plot forward, and as a result, may cause you to check the director’s notes on the DVD to see if another film’s scenes might have been spliced in erroneously.

As for Huey Lewis, it’s no News to anyone after watching this film that he may wish to consult with someone in the business known as a dialogue coach. Smoke alarms render more diversity in tone than Huey’s casual line readings. To Huey’s credit, his bemused smirks indicate that he had some fun playing the part of Al, a computer/telecommunications whiz, and because of that easygoing attitude, he was truly the most likeable character in the film. Each time he appeared in a scene, it looked like he was on his way back from helping himself to some food at the craft service table where he had overheard a much more entertaining story than the one unfolding in front of the camera.

Unfortunately, Huey’s valiant efforts could do nothing to resuscitate this limp crime drama. The whole mess collapses by movie’s end, when the script ludicrously calls for Huey’s character to set up a precisely-synchronized broadcast feat on multiple TV screens to fool a psycho killer. This accomplishment, which would’ve taken the crew from Monday Night Football a week to choreograph, sucks up whatever whiff of plausibility the movie had earned to this point, and derisively wipes it away without a shadow of a doubt.

© 2000 Ned Truslow

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