Anchor Bay // 2009 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // December 22nd, 2009
Why would a man frame himself...for murder?
I can't believe they actually managed to get John Tucker, the dude from The Hottie and the Nottie, and Amber "my Grudge film is even worse than Sarah Michelle Gellar's" Tamblyn into a single movie. Secondly I can't believe that the once respectable Peter Hyams was the director to oversee such a horrific bout of casting. I never thought a hammy Michael Douglas performance could seem so good, yet against these pathetic performances, it feels like Oscar calibre stuff.
District Attorney Martin Hunter (Michael Douglas, Basic Instinct) is on a criminal conviction hot streak, his effective performances in the courtroom allowing him the leverage to become a frontrunner in the quest for the position of Governor. However, struggling reporter C.J Nicholas (Jesse Metcalfe, John Tucker Must Die) has a feeling that Hunter may be using fraudulent forensic evidence to win cases. Along with newsroom buddy Corey (Joel David Moore, The Hottie and the Nottie), C.J proceeds to frame himself for a murder and documents his attempts to do so, allowing him to prove once and for all in his own case that Hunter is corrupting justice through career ambition. However, when things start to go wrong and evidence validating C.J's journalistic intentions goes missing, he has to rely on his girlfriend Ella (Amber Tamblyn, The Grudge 2) to see that his story is true and Hunter is playing a dirty judicial game to get his name up in lights.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is a remake of a 1956 noir of the same name, a film it has to be said I've never seen. My interest in the project stemmed from the venomous critical reaction the movie drew during its exceedingly limited September release earlier this year; bad films are a dime a dozen but it's an intriguing rarity for a film to score 0% on critical watchdog Rotten Tomatoes' useful rating system. Yet Beyond a Reasonable Doubt did just that, and it's not hard to see why. It's not at the very bottom of the barrel in terms of 2009 releases, but as a thriller it commits the cardinal sin of being boring. Plus with a cast like that, the acting really is some of the worst I've ever seen in a theatrically released motion picture.
Hyams, who has a small heap of credible sci-fi flicks under his belt, displays little in the way of competence throughout Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, a few scenes are stylishly shot but for the most part the pacing is frustrating and cinematography surprisingly dark. I don't mean dark in the "brooding" or "edgy" sense of the word but rather in the "I can't see anything" context. In fairness, the daylight scenes are perfectly fine but those shot at night are barely visible; as a veteran director, Hyams really ought to be above such rookie errors. This sort of technical slackness carries through to the musical score (which is unbelievably forgettable) and screenwriting. The plot itself isn't without promise or innovation but its execution here is weak and very few narrative developments seem credible. A far better handling of storytelling mechanics is required in order to arrange a bearable mystery, let alone a good one. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is hampered through a derivative and careless screenplay. The dialogue is mostly wooden and is peppered with some heinous one liners, I could literally smell the cheese off the screen after a few of the retorts and jaw smashingly awful exchanges.
The acting is nightmarishly terrible, especially from Metcalfe who is swiftly marking himself out as one of the least charismatic and versed performers in Hollywood today. After taking the title role in the withered teen comedy John Tucker Must Die, I really couldn't seem him going any lower, and whilst it would be hard to say his work here is worse, it's easily just as bad. Not once during the movie's duration does Metcalfe sculpt the character into an engaging or even semi-realized entity, instead opting for tiresome monologues and occasional scenes of partial nudity. Joel David Moore is inane in what is a completely unbalanced comic relief role whilst Amber Tamblyn doesn't even appear bothered that she's making an already formulaic character even drearier. Her chemistry with Metcalfe is feeble and their relationship feels rushed and false. Overall it's three bad actors doing what they do best -- totally sucking. I suppose there is some amusement in Michael Douglas' crazed and scenery chewing work, but I wouldn't class it as a redeeming feature, it's pantomime-level acting that lacks substance even though it occasionally amuses.
To spice things up audiences also get a so-so car chase, a sequence in a darkened parking garage (how original), a limp sex scene, and a ridiculously overblown and asinine twist. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is a poor flick made even more disappointing in that its basic premise might actually have been moulded into a decent remake.
The DVD comes with a self-congratulatory commentary from Hyams and Metcalfe that spends a distressing amount of time revelling in the actors' pretty much nonexistent ability. Less punishing only because they're shorter are a making off and a puff piece concerning the science of forensics. Together they lack any depth and run for well under 10 minutes combined (!!!) but hey, at least they keep celebration of the movie and it's themes to a minimum. The video transfer is imperfect and accentuates some of my lighting issues, though the audio is clear and commendable. Still, not a great release for the two fans of the film eagerly awaiting its home video arrival.
There were a few instances in which my pulse was taken a little above average and the film started to showcase its possible potential. One involving the downloading of photos to a memory stick was conventional but actually aroused my excitement whilst a few interludes involving Douglas begin to make interesting comments on the judicial system in the USA. However these concepts are never fully formed and ultimately make for a very unconvincing and scarce relief from the rest of the picture.
The film is a turkey. It's probably best to leave it at that.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13