JUST CAUSE (1995) * 3/4. Directed by Arne Glimcher, Written by Jeb Stuart & Peter Stone from the novel by John Katzenbach. Produced by Lee Rich, Arne Glimcher, Steve Perry. Executive producer, Sean Connery. Photography, Lajos Koltai. Production design, Patrizia Von Brandenstein. Music, James Newton Howard. Cast: Sean Connery, Lawrence Fishburne, Blair Underwood, Ed Harris, Ruby Dee, Kate Capshaw, et al. A Warners release. 102 min. Rated R (Ugly violence, language).
It is still only the beginning, but what computers can do in movies boggles the old bean, as Bertie Wooster might have said to Jeeves. Their razzle-dazzle effects are all over -- and especially impressive in animation. So are some of their uses in "live" movies: morphing in general, the Washington, D.C. of "Dave," the eliminated legs in "Forrest Gump," the critters in "Jurassic Park." Others are bad: the virtual reality of "Disclosure" or the gauche placing of Humphrey Bogart in last week's "Tales from the Crypt."
Less obvious, more pervasive and obnoxious is a certain computer mentality in structuring movies. This is the postmodern version of painting by numbers or connecting the dots. A case in point is "Just Cause" which feels as though a supercomputer was fed dozens of movie plots and was asked to come up with something. Which the computer did --with pretty grim results.
The film starts as a variant of others, including the classic "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962). In 1986 and in boondockish Florida, Bobby Earl (Underwood), a young, handsome, Cornell-educated black man is arrested for raping and murdering an 11-year old white girl. He protests his innocence but who can withstand 22 hours of torture? He is beaten mercilessly by a white cop. Then Tanny Brown (Fishburne), a ranking black cop ( the Chief of Police? unclear ) plays Russian roulette in Underwood's mouth.
The cops are vicious. You wonder especially about Fishburne. Is he a sadist? An Uncle Tom who bends over backwards to railroad Bobby? Or is he totally certain of the young man's guilt? No matter. Bobby has to confess.
8 years later Bobby is in Death Row. Up North, there is a public debate on capital punishment, a feeble and platitudinous confrontation between Harvard Law Professor Paul Armstrong (Connery, against) and a Mr. Phillips (George Plimpton, for).
Now comes Evangeline (Ruby Dee, very good), Bobby's grandma, who wants the Professor to save her innocent, coerced grandson. "Sorry" replies Armstrong, " I have not practiced law for 25 years." "Put your money where your mouth is" says his wife (Capshaw). You've guessed that Connery will rush to the station, catch Dee before she boards the return bus, and take on the case.
Sleuthing in Florida, Prof. Armstrong keeps finding traces of skullduggery and running into racism. He faces the unfriendliness of Tanny Brown and the strong-arm hostility of Brown's white subaltern. He meets the plump and very horny middle-aged Cuban lady editor of a paper, and many others, including Bobby and another prisoner (Ed Harris), who, in a shameless rip-off of "The Silence of the Lambs" plays a kind of Hannibal Lecter's Younger Brother. He also meets. in the Land of Eternal Youth, his father-in-law Kevin McCarthy, born 1914 but looking a jaunty 60 and not older than Connery who was born in 1930. This is where my plot-telling as well as the movie's interest come to a halt.
At first "Just Cause" manages to build up a modicum of excitement, though some of it is undermined by vagueness. It also cannily calculates its appeal to both black and white audiences with the semi-original twist of having the seeming bad guy be Tanny Brown. This comes after that other, still fresh-from-the-oven Lawrence Fishburne vehicle, "Bad Company." But neither movie is worthy of the abilities and the strong, intriguing presence of Mr. Fishburne.
Too soon, "Just Cause" becomes a morass of preposterous, illogical, undeveloped complications, coincidences, confusions and arbitrary twists, many of them filched from a large catalogue of pictures and/or movie cliches, from The Old Dark House to "Cape Fear" (the latter sticks out like a sore thumb), from an inexplicable John Wayne Bobbit-ish reference to action-film car chases and mano a mano fights, to superfluous local color via alligators. Instead of a tapestry we are presented with a crazy quilt.
The alligators, by the way, are seen in the dark, one with an eye like a white Maglite, the other with a red Maglite, like the one I use to take notes during shows. Or are they the same animal that changes bulbs? This saurian evokes another movie, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," where a monster sort of like it turns out to be Captain Nemo's submarine, the "Nautilus." Here you think of the colorful saying :"When you're up to your a.. in alligators, you can't drain the swamp" as the plot is a swamp and the movie can't drain it.
The production designer and the cinematographer have outstanding records, but even their best cannot make up for the dumb and dumber developments. The heavy-handed direction is by Arne Glimcher, a big-time art dealer who produced two movies and directed "The Mambo Kings" which I have found to be unendurable. "Just Cause" is his second directorial effort.
In conclusion, the best parts of the movie are: 1) Fishburne's screen weight (as well as his extra pounds); 2) Connery's presence, even though it carries less weight; 3) Connery's real eyeglasses (not Hollywood fakes) ; 4) the end credit for someone as "Fly Wrangler."