The new courtroom thriller "Guilty as Sin" boasts some real talent, both in front of and behind the camera. And the film has been hyped with an exciting theatrical preview (which, as it turns out, shows a bit too much of the film and all the good parts).
So, unsuspecting moviegoers can be forgiven for entering their friendly neighborhood theaters with certain expectations.
Unfortunately, the film fails to live up to any of them, faltering on nearly every level.
Rebecca DeMornay has the lead role, playing a high-rolling attorney who has a fan stalking her trials charming womanizer Don Johnson.
DeMornay reluctantly takes Johnson as a client when he's charged with murder he may or may not have thrown his wealthy wife out of a high-rise window. (Call this one "Jagged Ledge.")
As for Johnson, he's so egotistical and overconfident that DeMornay is put off by him immediately. At first she turns him down but later takes on the case, recognizing that it means prominent news exposure and a huge fee. She also likes the challenge of it, knowing the press will vilify him because of his gigolo past.
Oh, yes, and he might even be innocent.
But it isn't long before Johnson puts some threatening moves on DeMornay, and she decides to back out. Of course, she doesn't reveal why she wants to quit, so the judge decides they are too far into the process and won't allow her to drop Johnson as a client.
Before she knows it, DeMornay feels not only that her client might be guilty but that her own life may be in danger.
The film's biggest problem is DeMornay's character, who begins as a tough, strong, independent woman, one who isn't afraid to take a hard case to court and win it by any means necessary. (Late one night, after a particularly exhilarating courtroom success, we see her run to her boyfriend's office, where she aggressively seduces him at his desk.)
After her powerful pyscho nanny in "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," it's apparent that DeMornay is more than up to playing such a character.
But before the film is even close to the halfway mark, DeMornay suddenly becomes a whimpering, whiny wimp, so afraid of Johnson that even while she plots against him, her lower lip is quivering and her voice is shaky whenever she speaks even to the jury! (Compare this with Glenn Close's confident performance in the much-better "Jagged Edge.")
Johnson fares better here, oozing lethal charm and playing it quite low-key most of the way (though he does have one scene early on that has him going way over the top).
In support, Jack Warden, Stephen Lang and others give it their all, despite being saddled with by-the-numbers "types" rather than characters of any dimension.
Director Sidney Lumet has had his share of turkeys especially in the past decade but he's also given us such classics as "Twelve Angry Men," "Fail-Safe," "The Pawnbroker," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Network," "The Verdict" and the more recent, extremely underrated "Running on Empty."
"Guilty as Sin" is the genre he generally handles best but he seems at sea here.
The simplistic screenplay, by B-horror writer-director Larry Cohen, is fraught with lapses in logic and motivation, not to mention an abrupt, punchline ending that echoes, of all things, "Sliver." And the dialogue comprising Johnson's phony flattery, which he offers every woman he meets, rings false.
"Guilty as Sin" is rated R for graphic violence, some gore, far too much profanity and some brief sex and partial nudity.