Sunday, September 30, 2012

I Find This Film Guilty of Stupidity: "High Crimes" (2002)

I went to my local video store with a list of films I needed for a future column. I decided on the seven videos for seven days for seven bucks special, grabbed them all, and headed home. While my sons enjoyed "There Goes a Motorcycle" for the 958th time, I unloaded the rest of the videos. "High Crimes"? This was supposed to be "Iris." I called the video store, realizing that the clerk had mixed up "Iris"'s number (40850), and gave me (40805)- "High Crimes." I will go pick up "Iris" tomorrow, but I figured "what the hell, free video." Once again, fate has dealt me a cruel blow.

Claire (Ashley Judd) is a flamboyant defense attorney trying to have a baby with hubby Tom (Jim Caviezel). One night, strolling along, Tom is arrested by the FBI for multiple murders in El Salvador in 1988. Turns out Tom is really Ron, an ex-Marine who was in El Salvador in 1988, but he did not kill those people. Tom blames the crime on his superior, the killings were part of a terrorist interrogation raid gone wrong. Claire moves close to the Marine base where Tom is being held for court-martial. She hires boozy ex-Marine lawyer Charlie (Morgan Freeman) to help her and their military attorney (Adam Scott) get Tom off.

From this slapdash opening, rewind films like "A Few Good Men" and "The General's Daughter" in your head. Of course, Tom's arrest is part of a giant nationwide military cover-up, as the defense team is physically attacked but never killed, all while trying to prove Tom's innocence. Wait after the false ending for the big whoopdee-doo, gasp out loud, oh my heart, palm to your gaping open mouth surprise ending.

Much like "The General's Daughter," "High Crimes" gets little right about the military. I don't know about the background of the novel's author, or the screenwriters, but going on my two decades growing up on military bases around the world, and attending a number of court-martials in high school as part of a fleeting interest in a law career, I do not see a whole lot of research going into the film's portrait of military justice.

Also much like "The General's Daughter," this film hates the military. All the Marines here are trained killers who could flip out at any moment and do "what they were trained to do." Claire arrives, and suddenly has the run of the base...literally, at one point she takes to jogging around the base visiting the military lawyer. In all my years, I never saw any civilian lawyers taking a trot through base housing and calling on unsuspecting personnel. Claire also receives the fastest base pass in military history. She tries her gruff civilian manner in military court, something else no civilian lawyer I saw would try.

Ashley Judd and Jim Caviezel spend most of the film crying at each other. They have no chemistry, and overplay their parts. Hmmm...the boozy over the hill lawyer who gets that one big case to redeem himself, where have I seen this role before...oh, yeah, every network television and filmed legal drama from the last twenty years. Freeman plays the part, but this role is something anyone could do, why did Freeman sign up for this? Amanda Peet stops in to play peek-a-boob with an open shirt and colorful panties before calling in her role as "the successful attorney's hot flaky sister."

Franklin's direction is certainly pretty to look at, but he spends too much time right in Judd's face. Normally, I do not mind, but could we pull the camera back? I wanted lots of screen room so I could watch the Plot Convenience Police storm in and arrest the cast for Premeditated Leaps in Logic. This is one of the silliest scripts I have ever seen filmed. Coincidences that periodically stunned me into hysterical blindness, stock characters whose lines I was able to mouth along with the actors, and less accurate portrayals of the military than yesterday's "Beetle Bailey" comic strip. Throw in the globe hopping evil General (Bruce Davison), who is always just two hours from Claire, close enough to have lots of hushed and threatening conversations, and you have one loser of a movie.

"High Crimes" is so desperate to make you feel warm and fuzzy for the heroes, it makes the villains all the more evil. In the process, it bored me stupid whenever I could recover from my uncontrollable fits of laughter. It is a shame when such a good cast get shanghaied into a ludicrous flick. "High Crimes" for low times, I have got to get this thing out of my apartment and back to the store... (*) out of five stars.