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COURTING DISASTER

If John Grisham wanted to sue the makers of The Juror for impersonation of a legal thriller, he'd have a pretty good case. Some might see the star combo of Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin as a Dream Team, but the movie is strictly lightweight stuff, and unintentionally dense to boot.

Fresh from her triumph as Hester Prynne (and just before her $12.5 million disrobing in Striptease), Moore portrays one Annie Laird, striving artist and single mom extraordinaire. When she's called for jury duty--a prospect most people regard with a little less enthusiasm than a trip down to the police station for a good grilling--she happily complies. And when her case turns out to be the trial of a Mafia boss accused of conspiracy to commit murder, that doesn't bother her a bit, either. Let's administer a little justice, and then I'll get back to my paint set.

Enter the Teacher (Baldwin), a mob assassin who seems to have studied his trade not on the blood-spattered streets of any city but at an interpersonal communications seminar, or in conference with his astrologer. If Annie doesn't hold out for acquittal, he tells her, he'll kill her and her son. In this case, though, nothing's that simple. Most hit men don't say much, preferring their work to speak for them. But the Teacher is a hopeless gas bag. He filibusters poor Annie on everything from Chinese philosophy to the perquisites of power, and before long you're speculating that he won't ever need to put a bullet in her head: He'll simply talk her to death. As Baldwin rattled on, I kept hoping a mobster from a rival family would stick his entire head in a pail of cement and dump him off a barge so we could all go home and sit in the dark for a while in blessed silence.

No such luck. While director Brian Gibson busies himself building up some dark atmosphere, The Juror wanders off into incoherence, like a movie afflicted by Alzheimer's. The Teacher manages some car-bomb business that makes no sense. The heroine grows stronger and stronger of will--as heroines of her ilk are wont to do--but when she confronts the mob capo in a cemetery, you wonder how the hell they both wound up there at the same time. Just happenstance, we guess.

Screenwriter Ted Tally, for one, should know better. He adapted The Silence of the Lambs for the screen, one of the tightest scripts of recent memory. You can't help wondering how much of the The Juror lies on the cutting-room floor or never got shot (if Annie Laird will excuse the expression) at all.

Director Gibson also seems in a funk. His earlier What's Love Got to Do With It?, all about the domestic intranquilities of Ike and Tina Turner, tracked straight and true enough. The answers could lie in the movie's preproduction melodramas: After failing to get rights to a fine New Yorker magazine piece about a jury-tampering, producer Irwin Winkler glommed onto the George Dawes Green novel from which the movie eventually was made. Only problem was, another studio was simultaneously working on Trial by Jury, a William Hurt picture on precisely the same subject.

That one flopped, and so should this. Guilty as charged: Boredom in the first degree.

 
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