Somewhere between the Labors of Hercules and the Trials of Cate McCall are the Inconveniences of Judge Michael Nazarewycz.
The Truth is Deadly.
When I learned that The Trials of Cate McCall had, at some point, aired on the Lifetime Movie Network (while not specifically made for Lifetime), I had a warm chuckle. At one time in my life I was something of an LMN junkie, reveling in the newer melodramatic made-for-TV fare that had been inspired by the older melodramatic made-for-TV fare of my three-network youth (back when you watched whatever they put on TV because that's all there was.) It was campy fun—cheese puffs for my mind and something I surely would have live-tweeted had such a thing existed then. I may have moved on since, but a trip back to that cheesy goodness seemed like a fun idea.
Facts of the Case
Cate McCall (Kate Beckinsale, Underworld) is struggling with her life. She is battling alcoholism, which has jeopardized her career, ruined her marriage, and damaged her relationship with her young daughter. Relegated to defending hardship cases in the public defender's office, Cate is unhappy about her current case—one she thinks she can't win. Lacey (Anna Anissimova, The Whistleblower) is an inmate serving life without chance for parole for having murdered another woman. Lacey claims she was wrongfully convicted. Cate must prove it.
With only her legal mentor/AA sponsor (Nick Nolte, 48 HRS.) volunteering to help, Cate must wade through the murky waters of a corrupt law enforcement division and judicial system, putting in enough time at work to have her suspension lifted while not putting in so much that she is not there for her daughter, thus losing any hope of custody.
The word "trials" in the title The Trials of Cate McCall represents the numerous courtroom and personal trials that the title character must work through, but it might as well also stand for the trial of my patience with this film. I'm all about suspension of disbelief, but the goings-on here go beyond straining credulity—they grab credulity by the lapels, slam it to the floor, break it in half, and throw it back in your face.
There are three legal trials that Cate is a part of during this film. In one, her cell phone starts buzzing in her purse WHILE she is cross-examining a witness. She stops cross-examining the witness to see who is calling her. She doesn't take the call, but still. In another, in an act of complete revenge, Cate intentionally double-crosses the client she is supposed to be defending (which I thought was unethical, if not illegal). This is done AFTER she conspires with the District Attorney to do so. And in the big case, Lacey's retrial, Cate presents as evidence a videotape that, for the original trial, had been copied and edited to remove some damning information within. She compares the tapes in one of the film's big "Gotcha!" moments to expose cops and prosecutors as corrupt. But where did she get the original?
All of these moments, and others like them, feel like they were simply inserted either to advance the story as quickly as possible or to better serve a set-piece. It's like a conversation happened in writer/director Karen Moncrieff's (The Dead Girl) mind:
"Okay, how do we expose the dirty cop?"
But no conversation involving the word HOW ever occurs, and it's to the detriment of the story.
That covers the courtroom antics. The personal trials Cate endures are like basic conflict ideas taken from a screenwriting book.
Cate is an alcoholic. "Okay, make her sobriety a condition (or key point) to getting her family and job back, but have her fall off the wagon at least one time." But there is never a sense of struggle with Cate. For her, it's not a disease, it's an inconvenience; it's like she suffers from the idea of alcoholism, not actual alcoholism.
Cate's marriage is failing. "Okay, have the husband plan to move to another state with the daughter and have the daughter (the 4-year-old daughter, btw) completely stiff-arm Cate." Does this hurt Cate? Probably. Does it change her behavior? Nope.
And so on.
Then there are those personal/professional hybrid trials she must go through. She has a past with the considerably older judge on Lacey's case (James Cromwell, L.A. Confidential) and he wants some more of that…when it's convenient for the story. She is haunted by having previously wrongfully convicted a man (Isaiah Washington, Romeo Must Die) who occasionally stalks her…when it's convenient to gin up a little tension or hand-wringing. There are other things—actions and decisions by others—that I won't divulge, only to say that they, too, contribute to this head-scratching marathon.
As for Cate, she wears on the nerves because her response to adversity is to whine about it, and her motivations reveal themselves to be so shallow, I actually found myself rooting against her.
(One final note: I don't offend easily so this certainly didn't bother me, but this unrated film is chock full of the F-word as well as a pair of C-bombs. You have been warned.)
Both the 1.78:1 widescreen imagery and the Dolby 5.1 Surround track are perfectly serviceable, which is all you can really ask for in a film like this. There are no noticeable defects, but there aren't any significant a/v challenges put forth either.
There are no extras on this DVD. They left it all on the screen.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Oddly enough, there are a couple of good supporting performances to be found here. Nolte is Nolte, and there is nothing wrong with that. I also quite enjoyed Clancy Brown and Isaiah Washington in their small parts.
The story of a strong female lead seeking personal, professional, and familial redemption in a tidy 90-minute story is so deliciously Lifetime. But wrapped around The Trials of Cate McCall's gooey cheesy core are thick, sticky layers of implausibility that are too outlandish to be believed, yet not outlandish enough to be taken as camp. I guess they really don't make 'em like they used to.
Is there a Lifetime Classic Movies channel yet?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vertical Entertainment
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