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Fun Control 

We all know the formula by now. With John Grisham stories, you got your good lawyers and your bad lawyers, you got your crime, your trial, and you got your twist. And, unfortunately, you got that little morality play that always seems to leaden the proceedings.

So there's nothing new in Gary Fleder's adaptation of the 1996 novel, Runaway Jury -- except, of course, that this Jury ran all the way from Mississippi to New Orleans and from a tobacco case (remember them?) to gun control. With either subject, the discussion boils down to corporate greed vs. personal responsibility vs. the public welfare vs. the movie-going audience's right to a fun movie. Who will win?

Unfortunately, morality bogs down the best moments of Runaway Jury, which I know sounds kind of, well, immoral. But Fleder, blessed with a star-studded cast including Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, John Cusack and Rachel Weisz, obviously seems to be having more fun with the gamesmanship behind the attempts to control a jury than he does what the jury is deliberating over.

But, really, who cares about the contrived the plot, the uneven script, the twist ending that anyone could anticipate? This film was shot in New Orleans, so the only litmus test is whether Fleder does right by New Orleans, and the answer here is, despite some missteps, he does. It will take me years to recover from the cringe during a scene in a voodoo shop when our own Adella Gauthier is called a "Cajun" by Rachel Weisz. And we will be forever mystified by just what kind of accent was being served up by Dustin Hoffman -- as New York an actor as there ever was.

But the good news is we got to see tons of the French Quarter in all its varying states of polish and decay -- and, yes, lawyers and judges dine at Cafe Pontalba all the time! Whoever scouted out the broken-down Uptown house for Weisz's headquarters deserves a medal. And a great local cast including Fahnlohnee Harris, Michael Arata and Carol Sutton more than held up their end of the bargain.

Runaway Jury could have been a little more devilish, like the city that hosted it, but at least it was fun to look at. -- Simmons

click to enlarge Want some chicory? Good-guy attorney Wendell - Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) tries to find the good in - jury-tampering Marlee (Rachel Weisz) in Gary - Fleder's Runaway Jury.
  • Want some chicory? Good-guy attorney Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) tries to find the good in jury-tampering Marlee (Rachel Weisz) in Gary Fleder's Runaway Jury.
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