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The Gingerbread Man

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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie review
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3.  Harvey Karten read the review ---

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

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 drill instructor.

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 problems.

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 or shot.

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

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