What has happened to Carl Franklin? He made such a promising splash with the gritty 1992 crime thriller “One False Move,” and followed that up with 1995’s “Devil in a Blue Dress,” a memorable film noir that gave Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle some choice roles. His last film, 1998’s domestic/disease drama “One True Thing,” featured sterling performances by Meryl Streep (who earned an Oscar nod, natch) and Renée Zellweger, but it was markedly more conventional than his previous work, and now “High Crimes” washes away whatever unique filmmaking personality Franklin has.
Not only does the thoroughly formulaic “High Crimes” represent totally exemplify middle-of-the-road mainstream, it also represents glossy Hollywood at its laziest. Reteaming “Kiss the Girls” stars Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman seems less a move of inspiration than a shortcut for marketing purposes, cashing in on any lingering audience goodwill for that hit of nearly five years ago. To be fair, Freeman does seem to have a fun time of it as self-described “wild card” attorney Charlie Grimes, who helps Judd’s slick lawyer Claire Kubik defend her husband Tom (Jim Caviezel, whose usual subtlety is has fallen into simple sleepwalking here), who is on trial for murdering civilians in cold blood when he was part of a military operation in El Salvador. Judd reliably trots out the dour “woman tested by jeopardizing circumstances” act that catapulted her to stardom in “Kiss the Girls” and “Double Jeopardy,” but she doesn’t appear to invest much energy or conviction in the proceedings whenever Freeman doesn’t share her scenes.]
And how could she, given the script is so generic as to be ridiculously predictable? Each turn of the plot is telegraphed, telegrammed, telephoned way in advance, never more in the case of what is supposed to be a whopper of a final twist. Before that, though, the audience is made to endure clichés (e.g. the suspicious following vehicle that turns out to be not so suspicious after all) and characters and situations seemingly designed to pad out the run time (e.g. Amanda Peet as Claire’s slutty sister, who has a pointless affair with Claire’s geeky military co-counsel). That said, the film does spring to some life whenever Judd and Freeman share the screen; their chemistry hasn’t faded since they last worked together. But anyone who really wants to see them work together would be better off renting “Kiss the Girls”–which isn’t that good of a film, either, but it’s certainly better than this bore.