Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 2003 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // February 24th, 2006
Watch, vote, and execute...all in the name of justice.
Marty Rockwell (Jerry Springer, Ringmaster) is a famous TV producer with a hit reality show, So Sue Me, currently reaping huge ratings rewards. In an effort to further dominate the airwaves, he partners with Florida Gov. Bull Tyler (Roy Scheider, Jaws) and creates a new show, Citizen Verdict. The populace will be able to vote for which murderer they'd like to see stand trial and then the entire court proceedings (all three hours of them) will be presented live on the airwaves. Once the case has been offered, the people will then have one hour to vote. If convicted, the felon faces the death penalty and his or her execution will be witnessed live on pay-per-view.
When male prostitute Ricky Carr is accused of the rape and murder of cooking-show queen Dolly Hamilton, he becomes Citizen Verdict's first "star." Hired to defend him is local law school professor and renowned attorney Sam Patterson (Armand Assante, Judge Dredd). Although fairness and justice are promised, Patterson can't help but believe that somewhere in the background, the politicians and the media are pulling the strings on this showboating stunt. As the trial looms, secrets are revealed and it appears that Carr may be innocent, but it could also be just another slice of dramatic license used by Rockwell to spice up his audience share. How it all turns out is in the hands of the people...possibly. Indeed, it may not be a Citizen Verdict after all.
Though its premise shows plenty of promise, Citizen Verdict is about as ham-fisted as a pissed-off Porky Pig. It has numerous targets in its sites -- the U.S. legal system, reality television, political power brokers, and the overriding concept of justice -- and yet misses with each and every potshot it takes. It offers a collection of questionable talent (Jerry Springer...the actor?!?) and showcases a director who can't decide if he's making art, anarchy, or a mess, yet something about this sloppy, frequently incoherent cinematic free-for-all keeps clinging to the surface, hoping to prove that all the scattershot stratagems will pay off in the end. It's this element that keeps our attention, helps us over the numerous production problems, and prepares us for the anti-climatic finale that finally flounders in front of us. Maybe this would work if the script and the cinematic vision were sharper and more clearly defined or if a grade-A cast and crew were substituted for the Z-level talent traipsing around. Possibly if the plot were focused, taking on only one aspect of our jaded judicial system, this film wouldn't feel so redundant and disconnected. Yet thanks to the efforts of four writers and one producer turned lensman, what we're left with is the hokum hovering across the screen.
>From a pure reality standpoint, Citizen Verdict fumbles almost immediately right out of the box. While shows like Divorce Court and The People's Court allow for the waiver of due process rights in favor of a television litigation, the notion that this could be accomplished on such a capital level (since murder is a capital offense) is just ludicrous. The movie doesn't take any time explaining how the Constitution is so easily avoided. Indeed, if the premise assumes that all the inherent privileges that we have under the Bill of Rights are disregarded and/or waived by the players involved, then the story loses even more credibility. Since we don't really get a clear idea of how this all works (this entire movie is like a series of hints that never disclose the reality underneath), we more or less assume that all proper procedure is null and void. Indeed, a mid-trial "revelation" would be completely unacceptable in an actual courtroom setting, but the reasons for it being allowed here are all part and parcel of the overriding dramatic disregard for reality. In essence, the movie is just making it all up as it goes along and you have to take the fallacies and falsehoods at face value and just go with the nonsensical narrative flow. Otherwise, Citizen Verdict will bewilder your gray matter.
Then there is the acting. With performances cobbled together from various takes (the obvious editing is a dead giveaway) and about as amateurish as you can get, no one manages to survive this cinematic slop. Armand Assante basically mumbles through his performance and you know you're in trouble with even the ADR (and there is a lot of it here) is equally incoherent. Jerry Springer has two modes -- screamer or somnambulist. Either he's freaking out like Jack Nicholson at the end of A Few Good Men or he's inert. Roy Scheider thinks that all Floridians speak with an accent so thick it'd make hayseeds jealous and Brit wit Raffaello Degruttola believes that all criminals cry like a newborn baby with a soggy diaper. There are also several "man on the street" interview segments through which a subtle form of racism is revealed in the movie's mannerism. When Caucasian or light-skinned interviewees speak, we get sensible statements and pure populist spin. Whenever an African-American is shown, however, the film falls into stupid stereotype mode. We get outrageous reactions, broken English, and more intransigent race baiting than any American production would allow. But since this is a foreign film passing itself off as a homegrown production, such skewed views of our social order are understandable. They are by no means excusable, however.
The worst offender of all, though, is director Philippe Martinez. The ex-president of the famous Odeon Theater in Marseilles, he's now jumped into production like a continental Charles Band. As a result, he's been responsible for such scintillating cinema as the Jean-Claude Van Damme actioner Wake of Death and the recent Saw/Cube copycat House of 9. Citizen Verdict represents his first time behind the camera and it shows. This is a filmmaker in love with every fad and gimmick in the postmodern canon of half-assed hackwork. Aside from the rapid cutting (which the acting demands), we get pointless music montages, totally unnecessary slow motion, a derivative digital to analog vibe and massive post-production tweaking of color, graphics, and design. Though the story in set in Florida, the film was made in South Africa and Canada. Central setting Tampa is seen in a couple of pick-up shots and a few skyline scenes, but that's it. You can tell you're not in the Sunshine State when Armand Assante is seen playing football with his students...and there are mountains in the background. It is this level of seat-of-the-pants production value that puts the insipid icing on top of this already clichéd cake. Citizen Verdict is a less-than-successful film that just gets stupider the more you think about it.
Rendered in an unrecognizable format -- call it "fideo" or "digilm" -- Citizen Verdict looks pretty bad in this 1.33:1 full-screen image. The transfer is mediocre, with only the fake TV sequences looking good. Whenever Assante is on the screen, he seems to be rendered in greens and oranges, while the backdrops are either completely washed out or dyed in dim earth tones. The sonic side isn't much better. There is a lot of post-production recorded dialogue here and the Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1 mix amplifies its confounding fakery. In addition, the music is a combination of pointless bombast and bruised alt-rock wretchedness. As for extras, we are treated to a 12-minute "making of" that features the entire cast in Q&A mode, praising each other and their fearless filmic leader. Martinez does speak for himself and the man is a little deluded. He believes he is making a considered political statement with this movie. For him, it's Network. For us, it's just numbing.
While it's possible to make some manner of political satire out of our current criminal justice crisis, Citizen Verdict is not smart enough or sophisticated enough to take on such a task. Instead it's a direct-to-video void that will waste the time of anyone investing their efforts. While it may seem obvious to say it, the DVD Verdict on this title is wholly and purely guilty. No one could defend this dreck.
Review content copyright © 2006 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Behind the Scenes Featurette
* Official Site