A remake that keeps all the mistakes and few of the successes

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

on September 11, 2009 by Amy Nicholson

A remake of a Fritz Lang noir starring Michael Douglas as a crooked DA? Sounds great, until you remember that the 1956 original about a young investigative journalist who frames himself for murder was also the German auteur's worst film. The original desperately tried to overcome gaping plot holes; these same plot holes have been adopted wholesale by writer/director Peter Hyams for this remake. If this adaptation were 10% worse, it'd be a laugh riot; instead, it's headed for box office death row with no chance of reprieve.

Jesse Metcalfe stars as C.J. Nichols, a plucky reporter moved up to the semi-big leagues when his documentary about a homeless teen prostitute strikes a chord. C.J. is eager for his next big career move—taking down Douglas' ambitious attorney who sure seems to file a lot of late-breaking DNA evidence—but he still can't resist romancing assistant D.A. Ella Crystal (Amber Tamblyn), even though their unconvincing love affair puts them both in jeopardy. In a twist best defined as John Grisham-esque, C.J. convinces best friend and cameraman Corey (Joel Moore) to find him a freshly-dead hooker around which he can plant circumstantial evidence pointing towards himself and wait for Douglas to take the bait. (Hyams is astonishingly cavalier with the lives of young black women.) Heck, for the sake of the movie, I'll buy that premise. But after that, things get really asinine.

I've got no problem with movies that stack up twists like crazy straws. Hyam's script, however, depends on us being dumber than every character in the film—you'd have to reach protozoan levels just to resist wanting to strangle everyone in it. Compounding the problem is a cast that, though game, looks like kids playing dress up in a film that itself feels like it's playing dress up. Once things get really bad and C.J. risks getting put away for life, the film takes on a portentous tone it hasn't earned, and that threatens to give us a case of the giggles. MADtv ’s Orlando Jones, playing a cop who hates Bruce Springsteen, is what passes for gravitas. Douglas, however, is in his element as a vainglorious, slithering creep who's too smart to let the media glom on to his governor ambitions. One senses the role was too perfect for him to pass up, and without his malevolent performance, there's hardly a reason for this wreck to be released. Besides, of course, the guilty pleasures of feeling brilliant as you try to hold back from shouting advice at the screen.

Distributor: AfterDark Films
Cast: Michael Douglas, Amber Tamblyn and Jesse Metcalfe
Director/Screenwriter: Peter Hyams
Producers: Moshe Diamant, Peter Hyams, Mark Damon, Ted Hartley, Limor Diamant and Michael P. Flannigan
Genre: Thriller/Drama/Remake
Rating: PG-13 for a sex scene, violence and brief strong language.
Running time: 105 min.
Release date: September 11 ltd.

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