Monday, April 4, 2011

All the Tension and Drama of a Poached Egg: "Against Her Will: An Incident in Baltimore" (1992)

Walter Matthau returns as frumpy lawyer Harmon Cobb in this mild sequel to "The Incident."

Cobb, his dead son's wife Billie (Susan Blakely), and granddaughter Nancy (Ariana Richards) move to Baltimore so Cobb can join the one man law firm run by Judge Stoddard Bell (Harry Morgan). Bell gives Cobb everything he needs- a new car, a house, furniture, but no work. The money is fine, but Cobb finds himself arguing boring federal cases and begins thinking about moving back to Colorado.

He is approached by Michael (Bruce Kirkpatrick) to take on a different case. Michael's fiancee, Marika (Bridgit Ryan), is being held in the state hospital. She has been declared insane, and is being treated by a prominent psychiatrist. The problem is the psychiatrist has Marika admit herself into this country's version of Bedlam, and Cobb cannot sue the state due to sovereign immunity. Bell doesn't want Cobb to take the case and rock the comfortable boat the two have going.

On top of this, Billie begins dating Jack (Brian Kerwin), and Cobb cannot let go of the memories of his dead son. Billie and Nancy move out, and Cobb begins arguing the case.

The director and actors here are better than the average material. Matthau and Morgan seem to be having a contest over who is the most ornery (Matthau wins, hands down), but both are still likable. Blakely is very good as Billie, playing some nice emotional scenes with Matthau as she begins to regain her independence. Kerwin is wasted in a wishy-washy role. Old pro Delbert Mann still has a fine eye. There are no camera tricks, but the pacing is nice, and the settings and vintage automobiles never had me doubting that this took place in 1947.

However, the case is not all that interesting. This was shot for network television, and plays like "Matlock" or any one of the umpteen law firm shows that have come out over the last thirty years. The villainous opposition are all appropriately hissable and slimy, and Cobb and Bell are our grumpy old lawyers, showing the young 'uns how its done. The romantic subplot between Billie and Jack lets Blakely shine here and there, but Jack is so dopey that their scenes tire after a while.
"Against Her Will: An Incident in Baltimore" is an average television event, never really engaging the viewer. I did not love it, I did not hate it, but I will be hard pressed to remember it. I will slightly recommend it based on the lead actors and the direction.  (* * *) out of five stars.