Everything about this L.A. based legal thriller feels intentionally retro, as if PRIMAL FEAR/’96 and JAGGED EDGE/’85 were the hot new films, and Hollywood was all abuzz for the latest Scott Turow. Well, why not? Roman Polanski showed how those old plot hooks could be repurposed by changing professions for THE GHOST WRITER/’10; with a template so familiar it shares a climactic ‘reveal’ with this film. But unless you fall for the characters or discover new angles in the familiar terrain, the plot twists can all be seen tailing you in the rear-view mirror. Sophomore megger Brad Furman knows it and tries playing the old L.A. noir games in sun-drenched locales, but he smooths off too many edges, wastes energy on fussy visual transitions and winds up dulling much of the threat. We jog along pleasantly enough, wasting time with a host of over-qualified actors looking for character hooks to play. (At times, everyone seems to be auditioning for some putative Elmore Leonard pic.) It would matter less if Matthew McConaughey, as a slick lawyer who doesn’t know he’s playing out of his league, could make good on the Paul Newman shtick. But keeping your shirt on and letting the camera highlight a few lines on a pretty face only helps the cause if you’ve got something new to show once the polish is removed.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Paul Newman most famously played the ‘smart’ guy who doesn’t know he’s getting ‘played’ as the rising pool shark in THE HUSTLER/’61 and as a fading lawyer in THE VERDICT/’82. But he’s even better at the game as the smoothie businessman in the less acclaimed ABSENCE OF MALICE/’81.