The synopsis of Turner Network Television's Legalese
sounds promising: A high-powered, amoral lawyer guides an idealistic neophyte through a
high-profile celebrity murder case from behind the scenes, as the news media hound their
The trouble is that executive producer J. Paul Higgins and
producer/director Glenn Jordan don't seem to know how they want to present this
When it's a drama -- especially when James Garner is
on-screen as Norman Keane, a blend of media-savvy attorneys F. Lee Bailey and Johnnie
Cochran -- it has potential. Beneath his affable surface, Keane is a shark who'll do
anything to win, including setting up the district attorney.
The movie's only other strong role is Edward
Kerr's portrayal of earnest rookie Roy Guyton's struggle between ambition and
integrity -- but it's spoiled by a clumsy affair of convenience with Keane's
aggressive aide (Mary-Louise Parker, as Rica).
Moreover, the movie unfortunately veers off into satiric
commentary on tabloid-TV coverage of celebrity cases like O.J. Simpson's -- so much
so that it could be retitled Legal Sleaze. Kathleen Turner should be key to that
aspect, but she's wasted as the scruples-free host of a tawdry TV show, Scandal
The movie's identity crisis is evident in the opening
scene. Gina Gershon as Angela Beale, a B-movie actress hoping to get away with murder,
comes out of her apartment disheveled and bloody, bangs on neighbors' doors and then
pretends -- twice -- to collapse, very theatrically, in the hallway. The whole segment
comes across as an overacted sitcom scene.
Also puzzling: Rookie Roy cleverly sets up an elaborate
accident con to land a job with Keane, only to later frequently revert to bumbling
Showtime will soon offer a more traditional law drama, The
Defenders: Takingthe First, in which Don Perkins (Beau Bridges, also
co-executive producer) defends a friend's teen-age son, who's charged, with
three pals, in the beating death of a Latino.
But since the death was sparked by a rabble-rousing campus
speaker named Walker (Phil Casnoff), who is out to "repossess America" from
minorities, Perkins uses a civil suit to target Walker.
In the end, neither The Defenders nor Legalese can
match NBC's Law & Order for sheer dramatic impact.
TNT's Legalese bowed Oct. 4 at 8 p.m., with
seven repeats due by Oct. 16, while Showtime's The Defenders will premiere
Oct. 25 at 8 p.m.