As a category 3 hurricane -- aptly named Geraldo -- conveniently
makes its way to Savannah, the scene of the latest John Grisham movie,
the predictable plot of THE GINGERBREAD MAN is already so full of holes
that the storm is unlikely to do it any damage.
The legendary, but uneven (remember the disastrous KANSAS CITY),
writer and director Robert Altman places his stamp on the only Grisham
story that was developed exclusively for the big screen. Reportedly
Altman rewrote it significantly with the result that the only
recognizable Grisham story elements are the loathsome, southern lawyer
at the center of the crisis and the sleazy detective on its periphery.
Robert Altman, cinematographer Changwei Gu and set designer
Stephen Altman set a consistently somber and moody look for the
picture. The law offices are full of dark mahogany paneling lit only
by small desk lamps. In a film dripping with atmosphere, the constant
lightning and thunder are used and abused with a vengeance. Think
soggy film noir.
Cast against type and with a rarely believable southern accent
Kenneth Branagh plays Rick Magruder, a lawyer who chases anything in a
skirt and barks out orders to his large office staff like a marine
As Rick's sexy, but unobtainable, office manager Lois Harlan,
Daryl Hannah dresses in proper business suits and wears dark,
horn-rimmed glasses. She treats her boss with a certain disdain for
his sexual promiscuity. "You keep propositioning girls until someone
says yes," she admonishes him.
Rick's latest conquest is a fidgety woman named Mallory Doss,
played by Embeth Davidtz from FALLEN, whose nerves appear to cause her
to disrobe in front of strangers.
In the film's best performance, Robert Duvall in a tiny part plays
Mallory's insane father Dixon. Dixon, a barefoot and dirty recluse,
lives with a bunch of Neanderthals who act like rejects from a caveman
movie. The wonderful courtroom scene where the judge declares him
insane shows how good the movie might have been.
Who should they cast in the role of the constantly soused
detective Clyde Pell? In a bit of art imitating life, Robert Downey
Jr. plays the role with abandon. Belting out funny one-liners ("No
offense ma'am, but your Dad's always been a few beers shy of a
six-pack.") and inanities with equal vigor, he tries without success to
juice up the picture.
Not only does the show drag, it is predictable with a capital P.
A show this easy to guess makes reviewing it hard without giving key
twists away. Let me instead cover a few of the show's many minor flaws
and plot holes since they are symptomatic of the story's bigger
Rich people in party clothes go outside in a torrential downpour
but neglect to use an umbrella. Rick drives a red Mercedes convertible
that stays so highly polished that it looks like it just left the
showroom floor, and it keeps this sheen even after driving through rain
and muddy roads. How many people do you know who have two kids who use
a two-seater car to transport them around? When he is followed for
miles by a mysterious car, Rick never notices even though he is trying
to escape. And, finally, when Rick confronts the killer in the end, he
turns his back on the killer without ever worrying about being stabbed
If you're a fan of Boston Blackie style endings, where the hero is
chased up a high platform in one final fight to the death, you may be
just the target audience for THE GINGERBREAD MAN. Others may want to
catch this one on video where it would probably have begun were it not
for the illustrious cast and crew.
THE GINGERBREAD MAN runs 1:55. It is rated R for nudity,
profanity and violence and would be fine for most teenagers.
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes