I think I liked this movie better when it was called “Jagged Edge.” The major differences between that movie and “Cause of Death” are the gender of the accused killer and the fact that “Jagged Edge” is a better film.
The “did they do it or didn’t’ they?” plot device is one we’ve seen dozens of times, from “Just Cause” to “Basic Instinct” on down to “Anatomy of a Murder,” and it doesn’t get reinvented here: someone is accused of homicide, and during the ensuing trial someone else (in this case, the district attorney) becomes increasingly convinced they’re trying the wrong person.
Derivative plot aside, there’s nothing really *wrong* with “Cause of Death.” It’s got decent acting talent, the script is serviceable (when not outright hilarious), and while Marc S. Grenier won’t win any Best Director awards, he does an okay job. Overall, it’s just a lackluster film.
The movie is set in Baltimore during a garbage strike. The body of the mayor’s cousin is found at his home, where someone apparently had a 12-gauge bone to pick with him. He is discovered by his wife, Angela Carter (Severance), who protests her innocence but is arrested for the murder shortly thereafter. Deputy district attorney Taylor Lewis (Bergin) gets called in to take the lead on the case, but he’s not happy about it. It seems he’s been off capital cases ever since a previous one went sour. Details of the case are vague, but the fallout from it has left Taylor a bitter and disillusioned man.
Accompanied by his perky assistant named – no, really – Missy (Maxim Roy) and hounded by his boss (Michael Ironside), Taylor prosecutes the trial even as he suspects there’s more to this case than meets the eye (thanks largely to Angela’s clumsily proffered clues). Inevitably (and if you can’t see this coming you need to bone up on your clichés), the two become romantically involved, leading to a perfunctory sex scene that would leave even PAX subscribers feeling cheated. As more clues are discovered, connections are revealed concerning the dead man’s ties to the Mob, illegal waste collection contracts, and corruption that (dare I say it?) may extend to the highest positions in city government.
“Cause of Death” may be set in Baltimore, but it was shot in Montreal. This has little effect on exterior settings, but it seems as if a certain foreign sensibility has permeated the film. For instance, the part where Taylor clears out a bar by flashing a badge and yelling, “Everybody out! District attorney’s office!” is highly enjoyable. From the way the crowd reacts you’d have thought he threw a live skunk into the place.
If that had been a real Baltimore bar he would’ve needed mustard gas and a SWAT team (and all bets are off if the Ravens are playing).
And shouldn’t movies featuring extensive courtroom scenes have some kind of legal consultant? Angela’s lawyer actually makes an objection during a police interview, while Angela herself gives the bailiff a note to pass to Taylor – the opposing counsel – during opening statements. I don’t know if the latter is strictly illegal, but give me a break.
What the hell happened to Patrick Bergin? He was a great presence as Sir Richard Burton in “Mountains of the Moon,” and at least seemed to be doing more than going through the motions in “Sleeping with the Enemy” and “Patriot Games.” I expect as much from Severance, who is kind of a brunette Shannon Tweed, but Bergin just doesn’t seem to care anymore. Ironside is, well, Ironside, while newcomer Maxim Roy offers the only breath of fresh air among the cast. And it doesn’t hurt that her deputy DA character wears skirts short enough to get her disbarred.
“Cause of Death” is noteworthy only for the fact that it’s fairly unremarkable. Both cast and crew seem to be expending the minimum amount of effort needed for something that, minus a few f-words, could’ve easily aired as a CBS Movie of the Week.