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Physical Evidence (October 13/04)

It'd be easy for me to spend the majority of this review talking about Burt Reynolds' uninspired and lazy performance in Physical Evidence, but quite frankly, this is the sort of work we've come to expect from the actor. Aside from a surprisingly strong turn in Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, Reynolds' has spent the better part of the last two decades coasting on his gruff, devil-may-care, tough guy persona. With Physical Evidence, Reynolds' lack of effort is compounded by a seriously idiotic screenplay and a laughable performance from co-star Theresa Russell. Inexplicably, the movie's been directed by noted author/filmmaker Michael Crichton (what on earth was he thinking when he agreed to helm this mess?)

Reynolds stars as Joe Paris, a grizzled cop accused of murdering a notorious criminal named Jake Farley. All the evidence seems to point to Joe, though his court-appointed attorney Jenny Hudson (Theresa Russell) is confident she can win the case. The film follows the familiar Law and Order pattern of alternating between courtroom sequences and the investigation of the crime, as Jenny works the case and Joe attempts to figure out who really committed the murder.

It's amazing just how inept Physical Evidence is, particularly given the talent in front of and behind the camera. It's hard to determine just who deserves the lion's share of blame for the film's failure - Russell or screenwriter Bill Phillips. Aside from peppering the story with some of the most eye-rollingly awful dialogue to come around in ages, Phillips overloads the film with suspects - to the point where virtually every character with a speaking role becomes a person of interest. Despite the surfeit of suspects, it's fairly easy to discern the identity of the real killer (all one needs to do is figure out which character is the least likely to have done the crime, and that's who it is).

As for Russell, she is completely out of her league here. Russell is the sort of actress who can play one type of character - that would be sleazy and scheming women - and that's about it. Trapped inside Jenny Hudson - a classy and intelligent lawyer - Russell looks completely lost, and isn't convincing in the slightest. She's essentially like a little kid trying really, really hard to pass herself off as a grown-up - without a lick of success. Playing her boyfriend is noted sitcom-killer Ted McGinley, who effortlessly gives a far better performance than Russell - which is really saying something.

Above all else, though, Physical Evidence features a case that simply isn't interesting. This is warmed-over Law and Order type material, and there's no denying that the proliferation of such shows has basically rendered this movie irrelevant.

out of

© David Nusair