My first film this year was, for obvious reasons, “2010: The Year We Make Contact,” and when I was looking through the stack of “next things to watch” on my desk, I realized that I had the latest Peter Hyams film here as well, and I decided that while I was on a pro-Hyams kick, I should give it a watch.
Ouch. That’ll teach me.
Hyams is both writer and director this time out, and if there’s even been a clearer indicator of how mired he is in the ’80s, I’m unaware of it. And, yes, I liked many of the movies of the ’80s, but I’m not nostalgic for them. Watching “Beyond A Reasonable Doubt,” I know why. Remember when every thriller that starred Michael Douglas was a giant A-list event? Well, those days have passed, and now you get a movie where Douglas is supposedly the bad guy, but barely shows up in 15 minutes of film altogether. Instead, Jesse Metcalf is the lead of the movie, with Amber Tamblyn as the female lead, and Douglas serving a role more akin to the shark from “Jaws” popping up a few times to remind you of the threat.
I’ve never seen the original version of this film (yes, it’s yet another remake) from the ’50s, but I can see how this material might work better as a film noir, and in an age where people’s faith in the law was more absolute, a story like this might really pack a punch. But these days? Corruption is so commonplace, so expected at this point, that it all just lays there. I don’t buy the plot mechanics as being remotely possible, so nothing else matters. It’s not like the film has characters to fall back on. Instead, it’s all just going through the motions, right down to a couple of ridiculous overdone car chases that strain credulity past the breaking point.
Tamblyn has proven several times, as in the remarkable “Stephanie Daley,” that she is capable of very strong work when given the right material. If anyone makes it out of this movie with their dignity intact, it’s her, but it seems like a real waste of a good actress to ask her to just go through the motions like this. And I’m not terribly familiar with Jesse Metcalf, but it can’t be a good thing that I spent the entire film convinced he was the dude from “Saved By The Bell.” He has absolutely no weight on-camera, and I would guess there are not many lead roles in his future. Joel David Moore plays Metcalf’s sidekick, and he’s becoming one of those guys who cast for the particular energy he brings to a role, not because of any special range. He’s fine, but he’s out of the film fairly quickly, sort of like Orlando Jones, who shows up for a few minutes on either end of the film to no discernible effect.
One of my biggest gripes is when movie dialogue sounds like movie dialogue, calculated for what it will do to the audience but not for what it does to the characters, and not because of any sense of reality. Everyone in this movie speaks directly past the camera, and it makes the entire thing feel staged and phony. Hyams has never been the best writer/director in the world, but he’s had his moments, certainly.
And just as certainly, that moment has passed.
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