24 September 2011

The Films of Jonathan Lynn: Trial and Error

Released in 1997 by New Line Cinema, Screenplay by Sara and Gregory Bernstein, directed, of course, by Jonathan Lynn.

"Trial and Error" follows best friends Charles Tuttle (Jeff Daniels), a high-powered lawyer and Richard Reietti (Michael Richards), a struggling actor, and their high-jinks in a small town in Nevada . When Charles is too hung over from his bachelor party (thrown by Richard, of course) to appear in court for a routine continuation, Richard takes his place, but the matter goes to trial. While Richard has to defend a shameless defrauder (Rip Torn), Charles has to cope with his fall from grace, merely being ordinary.

Visually, the exteriors look great. In my post about "Wild Target", I've slammed Gabriel Beristain for setting up bland "sitcom style" look to these movies, but with the stunning snowcapped mountains in the background and exposures such that you can almost feel the desert heat, "Trial and Error" so far has set up the best cinematography in a Jonathan Lynn movie since Beristain's work on "My Cousin Vinny".

"Trial" is a well crafted movie with some very funny scenes , but compared with the other movies in Lynn's catalog, it doesn't really offer anything new. Every funny thing you could do with the legal system had already been done in "My Cousin Vinny". "Trial" is ostensibly about lies and deception (what with carrying on a charade during a trial about fraud), it seems like that ground has been covered, too.

All of Jonathan Lynn's films so far ar farce: the plot hinges on a secret being kept (like hiding the corpses in Clue') or a bald-faced lie being maintained (like how Vinny Gambini claims he's "Jerry Callow"). With little more to offer than some beautiful cinematography and Charlize Theron in a tight top, "Trial and Error" is little more than routine.

My focus with these reviews largely is story and screenwriting, and one thing "Trial and Error" illustrates very clearly is Character Arcs. Many screenwriters and critics believe this is the most important story element , from Michael Corolone's descent into corruption in the film version of "The Godfather", to Chihiro's growth from a whiny brat into a compassionate problem solver in "Spirited Away" .

Don't get them mixed up, now.

Usually, the character does something at the end of the movie that he would (or could) never do in a million years at the beginning.

In "Trial and Error" both Charlie and Richard go through their arcs. At the beginning of the film, Charlie is a lawyer for whom everything, even his pending marriage, is about his career. At the end of the movie, he walks away from the courtroom, dumps his fiancee and runs away with Charlize Theron. Richard starts the film as a goofball who'd rather show off than take responsibility for anything. At the end of the movie, he addresses the court honestly, admits his client is a scumbag and should be put away because it's the right thing to do.

Box Office Mojo says the film opened at #4 with a worldwide total gross around $14, million, considering New Line's modest release policy at the time (even "Austin Powers" didn't get a lot of launch promotion and publicity, that was saved for the sequel in '99 when the property was already classified as "pre-sold"). But that sounds like enough to keep a film directing career going, at least long enough to direct "The Whole Nine Yards".

No comments:

Post a Comment