Thursday, March 10, 2016

Trial And Error

Jonathan Lynn, the director of MY COUSIN VINNY, returns to a rustic courtroom milieu for TRIAL AND ERROR, another funny, smart farce with perfectly timed slapstick sequences.

The setting this time is a small Nevada desert town where big-city attorney Charlie Tuttle (Jeff Daniels) is assigned to defend his boss’ distant cousin Benny Gibbs (Rip Torn): a con man who sold “copper engravings” by mail for $17.99 and sent his victims a penny in return.

The night before the trial, Charlie is surprised by his best friend Richard (Michael Richards, at the height of his SEINFELD fame) and some guys from Richard’s acting class who take Charlie out for a bachelor party in the hotel’s bar (Charlie is to marry his boss’ daughter in a few days). Charlie awakens to a massive hangover the next morning. Richard pretends to be his friend for a day, hoping for a continuance. Instead, the trial is set for that afternoon, forcing Richard to continue his deception and Charlie to save his own rear by using notes, flash cards, and even tooting car horns to help Richard pull it off.

The courtroom scenes are terrific and outrageously performed by a nice supporting cast, but Lynn deserves credit for the film’s love story too. Charlie begins to fall for Billie (Charlize Theron), the hotel’s waitress, who wears a lot of midriff-baring outfits and seems way too smart and fresh for her rural surroundings. The relationship between a straight-laced conservative engaged to a spoiled rich girl he doesn’t love and a younger, more carefree college student is sweet and a nice counterbalance to the broader laughs inside the courtroom. Theron, just 22 years old and acting in her third motion picture, is equally wholesome and sexy and a great fit with Daniels.

Richards is basically doing Kramer, and Lynn provides plenty of opportunities to show off his flair for physical comedy—notably an audition scene where Richard plays the victim of a Mafia beating—think THE GODFATHER Meets THE INVISIBLE MAN. It isn’t a stretch for Richards’ first (and last) leading role, but it’s funny—very funny. The wolfish Torn fits in perfectly with a hilarious monologue on the witness stand, and Austin Pendleton, wonderful as a stuttering lawyer in MY COUSIN VINNY, has more nice moments as a harried judge.

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