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The Moviegoers vs. 'Runaway Jury'

By Richard von Busack

YOUR HONOR, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. In the case of the motion picture Runaway Jury, we petition for a verdict of "Wait until video." As it has been seen in precedents, such as the case of The Moviegoers vs. The Pelican Brief, A Time to Kill, etc., it has been established that John Grisham novels are exceedingly difficult to unravel into a satisfactory movie. The defendant argues that Runaway Jury has given fair warning by crediting four separate screenwriters in the advertising. I ask the jury, who can read that tiny print?

Moreover, your honor, in creating an artificial buzz about the sparks flying between the leads Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, the defendant has attempted to pass off said Runaway Jury as quote a suspense thriller unquote from quote a master storyteller unquote.

Your honor, is the scarcely believable plot of Runaway Jury evidence of "master" storytelling? Allow me to recap: in New Orleans, a widow files a civil suit against a weapons manufacturer. Said company produced the assault rifle that took the lives of one stockbroker and a group of his fellow office workers who didn't join in the class action, for some reason.

Enter a cloven-hoofed professional jury tamperer from out of town, one Rankin Fitch, played by Gene Hackman. It is Fitch's business to use surveillance to blackmail jurors into favorable verdicts.

His opponent in the case, one Wendell Rohr (played by Mr. Hoffman) is a warmhearted mensch, the antithesis of the Satanic Fitch.

Between these figures comes an interloper, a video-game-store employee played by John Cusack. No ordinary unlucky duck, drafted into the jury pool. No, he--and his girlfriend Rachel Weisz, have a mysterious plan to shake both attorneys down for millions, while tampering with the jury on their own time.

Said jurors are portrayed as salt-of-the-earth types, easily turned by a master manipulator. However, in a five minute long scene added later between Hoffman and Hackman in a men's restroom, Hoffman stands up as representative of the little guy. The evil Fitch, by contrast, derides the American people as Barcalounger-ridden cable TV watchers.

I put it to the court that Runaway Jury's thoroughly fake populism coats an essentially cynical view of working-class weathervanes, ready to be blown in any direction the wind blows. I put it to the court that the only reason why Hoffman's Rohr didn't seek solace from a statue of Thomas Jefferson afterward is that there wasn't one handy.

While Runaway Jury is stale, there's never anything stale about Hackman. Oppressing widows and insulting Democrats is a job he accomplishes with an avidity that defies his years.

Maybe I'm just a backward old country movie critic. But where I come from, your honor, we like to see the villain outsmarted, not out-hearted. Runaway Jury traffics in every courtroom cliché, including a mawkish grab for the jury at the end of the film with a reel of a child's birthday party. The issues in this issue film could use a hearing. And few buttons are hotter than gun control. Runaway Jury is an allegedly controversial film that handles its topic with tongs. I rest my case.

Runaway Jury (PG-13; 127 min.), directed by Gary Fleder, written by John Grisham and Brian Koppelman, photographed by Robert Elswit and starring John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz, is now playing at selected theaters valleywide.

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Web extra to the October 16-22, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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