Just Cause is a tired retread of crime thrills
Directed by Arne Glimcher.
Written by Jeb Stewart and Peter Stone, based on the novel by John Katzenbach.
Starring Sean Connery, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Capshaw, Blair Underwood, Ruby Dee, and Ed Harris.
Loews Copley Place.By Scott Deskin
As if revived from a deep sleep, studios are resuming their bombardment of movie theaters with appallingly awful material after a semi-respectable offering of films during the winter holiday season. Just Cause is the latest in a long line of these sub-par potboilers, a crime thriller with adequate suspense and graphic post-mortem scenes, and it is doomed by a poor script and bloated, melodramatic characterizations.
Perhaps the brief sight of Harvard Square during the opening credits gave me a false sense of the quality of the production; but, as with the extraneous Boston setting in last summer's Blown Away, it doesn't add much to the story. Sean Connery plays Paul Armstrong, a Harvard law professor whose humanistic stance against capital punishment is put to the test: He's enlisted by the grandmother of a death row inmate, Bobby Earl Ferguson (Blair Underwood), to help his appeal of a murder case for which he was convicted eight years earlier.
After some concerned prodding from his social-worker wife (Kate Capshaw), Armstrong firmly decides to leave the finely-manicured lawns and brick walls of Harvard with his daughter to accept the case in Florida. Ferguson's case turns out to be based primarily on the townspeople's distrust of him as an outsider, and the eagerness of the police to convict for the rape, sodomy, and murder of a young girl.
During his investigation Armstrong runs afoul of police detective Tanny Brown (Laurence Fishburne), a cop who swears, along with the rest of the town, that he sent the right man to prison (perhaps a variation on In the Heat of the Night). Then, in this formula, it's up to Armstrong, with the devious help of Ferguson's psychotic mass-murdering inmate, Blair Sullivan (Ed Harris), to clear Ferguson of the crime.
The plot I've described is not much more complicated that the average TV-mystery show (e.g., Murder, She Wrote or Matlock) that wouldn't take more than an hour to unravel efficiently. The movie does supply a few twists that take a few liberties with the story (and take more than a few liberties with an audience's credibility), but most of these twists are lame and trite: You've seen these episodes executed before a lot better. Ed Harris' role as the inmate who offers advice to Connery's professor with crazy-eyed relish is a half-baked and insufficient attempt to snare the interest of the audience.
As I am implicitly duty-bound by Warner Brothers not to divulge any of these plot twists to fellow viewers, I can only say that the confrontation at the end of the film isn't original or inspired - in fact, it's dull and insipid (a pale emulation of the finale of Cape Fear).
Just Cause is a curious film in the respect that it was even made. There's a lot of talent in this film, to be sure, but it's all wasted. Connery's performance is personable and restrained, more so than Laurence Fishburne or Ed Harris; yet, like everyone else, he is prone to overact to compensate for the gaping holes in one major plot twist toward the end of the film.
Director Arne Glimcher (who debuted with The Mambo Kings) has made an aesthetically and superficially pleasing film, but crude sensationalism substitutes for morality and substance. The soundtrack looms and swells to the pivotal action sequences, but you can't help but feel unmoved.