Lionsgate // 1989 // 99 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // June 10th, 2005
If he's innocent, the truth could save him. If he's guilty, the lies could kill her.
You mean Michael Crichton actually directed a movie worse than Looker?
Boston cop Joe Paris (Burt Reynolds, Driven) is framed for the murder of a local sleazebag. Jenny Hudson (Theresa Russell, Impulse), a young public defender looking to make a name for herself, jumps at the chance to defend him. The street-smart cop initially wants nothing to do with the ambitious, sophisticated lawyer, but he soon realizes she might be his only chance to save himself.
The 1980s weren't a good time for Michael Crichton. He was publishing bad novels, such as Congo and Sphere, and directing bad movies, such as Runaway and the aforementioned Looker. As bad as the rest of his output from that time was, Crichton's nadir of suckitude had to be Physical Evidence, a movie so stupefyingly dull you'd think Crichton (who, oddly enough, didn't write the script) had pulled that old Werner Herzog trick and put everyone on the set in a trance, which probably would have been a good thing, because I'm sure they'd all like to forget making this thing.
The plot of Physical Evidence is a paint-by-numbers affair. There's no way Paris is guilty, and you just know a critical piece of evidence will surface just as the case is about to go to the jury, so from beginning to end there's a distinct lack of tension. All of the standard courtroom drama characters and situations are trotted out. There's James Nicks (Ned Beatty, Rudy), the prosecuting attorney who treats every case like it's the trial of the century and who keeps dropping ridiculous bombshells on Hudson, who seems to know absolutely nothing about her client, at the end of each day's proceedings. (My favorite is when he brings up the fact that Paris was a Special Forces operative in Vietnam and that he dispatched his targets by strangling them, which is how the man he is accused of murdering was killed. It's mentioned in two scenes and then immediately dropped. You'd think Nicks would like to bring up something like that in front of the jury, and you'd think Hudson would have done at least a little research into her client's past.) There's Deborah Quinn (Kay Lenz, House), who is having an affair with Paris and could save his neck by providing him with an alibi, but changes her mind at the last minute because her husband is...well, that's where we have a bit of a problem. Quinn's husband is a guy a lot of people fear, but I'm not sure why. I don't know if he's a crooked politician, a mobster, or a chef who's just likely to spit in everyone's baked beans, but for some reason all of the other characters talk about him in hushed tones. You also get enough red herrings to keep Shamu fed for the rest of his life, but instead of being woven into the story, they're simply tossed in, made to seem important, and then quickly forgotten. And you just know Paris and Hudson will end up falling for each other, although the way it's presented here, it's more of an awkward stumble than a fall. The laughable dialogue certainly doesn't help; there's a moment when Paris looks longingly into Hudson's eyes and she rebuffs him by saying, "No way, Jose." His reply? "I ain't Jose." Jesus H. Christ, somebody actually got paid to write that? You also get a badly staged car chase, a badly staged fistfight, a ludicrous final act, and a villain who somehow manages to follow Paris and Hudson around the streets of Boston while simultaneously honeymooning in Brazil (the fact that he has reason to honeymoon in Brazil also negates his motive, but who cares?).
Maybe the routine nature of the script is why no one in the cast, with the exception of Beatty, whose performance actually deserves to be in a better movie, even tries. Reynolds is just going through the motions; his performance here is like a Quaalude-influenced spin on his turn in Sharkey's Machine, and his seemingly ad-libbed one-liners are painfully unfunny. Russell is equally bad, but at least you could argue that she was miscast. Really, why the hell would you cast Theresa Russell as a stuffy lawyer? Better yet, why cast her in a role that doesn't call for nudity? (Sorry about that.) Russell does have the movie's one, albeit unintentional, funny moment, in which she quivers uncontrollably and flips Beatty the bird (Russell proves that when it comes to conveying anger, she can shake better than Shatner). I thought maybe Lenz would provide a bit of a spark, but she's completely wasted here. A better move would have been to give her Russell's role, but we'd still have to deal with the wretched writing, so why bother?
The quality of the technical presentation falls in line with the quality of the material being presented. The full-frame transfer is as dull and lifeless as the film; the faded, washed-out look makes me wonder if maybe the transfer was created using a VHS copy someone recorded off an old cable broadcast. The audio is thin and pinched, with a definite canned quality. The surrounds came to life a few times, generally to showcase Henry Mancini's awful score, but for the most part the track sounds like two-channel mono. What do you get in the way of extras? Nothing.
Physical Evidence is dull, pointless, and just plain awful. Do yourself a favor -- skip it and find something more entertaining to do, such as picking lint out of your navel. I gotta admit, though, it makes a great cure for insomnia.
All evidence points to sucking. Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2005 Mitchell Hattaway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Bottom 100 Discs: #90
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R