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'The Runaway Jury' is a guilty pleasure.

I think the key to the American movie industry is that we, as a nation, like to see people get hurt. But not just any people, mind you: They have to be bad people. Or funny people. Or innocent bystanders. OK, pretty much anybody.

But the best is when really bad people get hurt, especially if they're big, bad people and they're hurt by little people whom we can pretend are good even though they're doing something bad, i.e. hurting someone.

So the new film The Jury That Got Up and Ran Away should be a good source of entertainment, because it's got lots of hurting of just this sort. Unfortunately, and I think this will dent the box office appeal of the film, much of the hurting is emotional and/or financial in nature. We, in America (my country of origin and citizenship), like to see people get hurt physically, with the boot in the face and the falling down the stairs and the bleeding and the yelling and the painfulness.

Anyway, The Jury What Done Run Off is your basic con game movie combined with your basic legal thriller. It's sort of Twelve Angry Men plus The Sting plus Weekend at Bernie's, minus Weekend at Bernie's.

John Cusack, who may or may not be a good actor, I really don't know, but is really fun to watch, stars as a guy who gets himself on a jury so he can totally mess with it. His girlfriend is played by Rachel Weisz, who's a lot like John Cusack in that she doesn't act like a normal person, but she's really fun to watch. Watching them is sort of like watching Mummenschanz. You're all like "What is that? That's cool. What the hell is that?"

Anyway, the two of them are plotting to take over a jury in a high-profile case that pits Dustin Hoffman as the voice of goodness, in spite of the fact that he plays a lawyer, against Gene Hackman, who is the personification of evil, which is the only role he can play now that his hairline has receded past the point of goodness.

Hackman is not a lawyer, but rather a jury consultant. If The Jury That Isn't There Anymore Because They Must Have Run Away to Another Place is to be believed, jury consultants are people who regularly take lunch at Spago with Satan. Hackman's job is to manipulate the jury so that they won't give millions of dollars to the poor widow of a rich investment banker who was killed with a gun. He represents gun manufacturers, who are also made to look like people who are so evil that Nazis would be embarrassed to date them.

Hoffman is suing the gun manufacturers on behalf of the poor widow, who is "poor" only in the sense that she's a widow, since she's clearly rich enough to buy a Latin American nation or a gubernatorial election. But she wants to get richer, at the expense of the gun manufacturers, who made the weapon that killed her husband. To my mind this is like suing God for making you mortal. I mean, He's got deep pockets, why not go after Him?

Anyway, Cusack is on the jury and Weisz is working on the outside, and she lets Hackman and Hoffman ("The H-mans," as they like to be called) know that she can sell them the jury for a cool 10 million. I like her, because she isn't pretending that anybody owes her anything. She just likes money.

What really works about this, for us the audience, that is, is all the cool chicanery and flim-flammery that Weisz engages in to get her point across. There's a half dozen plot twists and double cons that I wouldn't dream of giving away for fear of receiving a million nerdy e-mails that define the term "spoiler," but I will say that in the final scene, you find out that things are not what they seemed, and that Gene Hackman gets shot in the head by an angry juror.

Just kidding. That doesn't happen. But that may be the problem with Dude, Where's My Jury? I think the con-game movie is not really on the American menu anymore, unless it includes a lot of explosions. Jury Not Here has pain and cruelty, which we love, but not much blood, which we adore. It has the great sadistic thrill of seeing someone who is self-assured and wealthy and evil getting his balls handed to him, but it lacks a scene of someone literally getting his balls handed to him.

Too bad. I think O Jury Where Art Thou is decent, diverting entertainment. It gets a bit preachy on the gun issue, but whatever, it's still got enough twists and turns to make it worth watching, and it's the kind of B-movie I enjoy seeing when I'm not in the mood to reread the complete works of Kant: not deep, but well paced and highly plotted.

More by James DiGiovanna

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