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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer (Release Date: 3-18-2011)

        As far as genuine movie stars go, Matthew McConaughey doesn't really have the world's largest fan-base, and it's not hard to see why. Tropic Thunder withstanding, the man has been in one bad movie after another over the last few years, including, but not limited to, The Ghosts of Girlfriend's Past, Fool's Gold, and Failure to Launch. There's no question that the guy likes to cut a paycheck, but the staggering lack of quality in his resume of late makes one question who exactly is paying him. Perhaps recognizing the fact that he hasn't even tried to make a real movie in quite some time, McConaughey side-steps his standard shirtless charmer character for something at least a little bit meatier. But the question remains: Does he still really have what it takes to sit at the grown-ups table acting-wise?

        McConaughey, ever-pouring on the devilish charm, stars as Mick Haller, a brilliant lawyer who's far more concerned with feeding his wallet than preserving the peace. As the movie's title would suggest, Haller spends a good deal of his time riding around in the back of a Lincoln Town Car, arriving at destinations all over town, sometimes even making his deals while seated in the back. Into this lavish life-style enters Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a thirty-two-year-old heir to a swelling piggy bank, and the primary suspect in the savage beating of a Miss Reggie Campo (Margarita Levieva). Haller sets out to prove the innocence of his client, and a great many airport-novel-style twists ensue.

        Director Brad Furman's sophomore effort is not without slickness and style, but his intense focus on constantly switching up the visual pallet of the movie makes the flick feel like the product of seven different film-makers. Hand-held, washed-out, zippy tracking shots, strobed-out and stylized flash backs: It's easy to get the feeling that Furman and his fellow craftsman didn't have faith in the story to be interesting enough in and of itself. Similarly jarring is the sheer amount that we see of the Lincoln. As if the name of the movie weren't off-putting enough, Furman and company make sure that you have the Lincoln logo emblazoned in you mind by the time that this one is over.

        The most problematic aspect of Furman's focus is the fact that it seems to ignore the electric performance at the movie's center. My list of positive experiences with McConaughey had been thus far limited to his few scenes in Dazed and Confused, but the fun that he's having here is enough to erase a life-time of poor career choices (or maybe, like, three movies or so... Let's be real) It's not the kind of performance that wins Oscars, but it's here that McConaughey puts to good use the boundless bad-boy charisma that he's (allegedly) always had. Think of his Haller as Tony Stark with a law degree, a comparison that only gains steam when one thinks of just how far McConaughey could get if he decided to keep his smartest-guy-in-the-room, shit-eating-grin persona around for a while.

        It's too bad, then, that McConaughey seems to be the only actor who brought his A-game. To be frank, I'm one of Phillippe's biggest detractors, so if you like the guy, you might feel differently about his performance here. For my money, it's ample proof that the thespian is just about the most vanhilla actor out there, boring even when handed the movie's second juciest part. Speaking of confirming previously held opinions: Marisa Tomei needs a new agent, stat! The talented actress finds herself once again being completely under-used, her presence in the movie existing only to yet again confirm that, yes, she still does look that good. The screenplay, as penned by John Romano, is chuck-full of eye-roll inducing moments that recall any number of CBS programs, but the story itself is twisty and fun, holding your attention even after it slips off the deep end in the final fifteen minutes. 

        So, here's what we have working against this one: A bum screenplay, rampant product placement, confused aesthetic, a few minor performances, and a burn-out of a finale. Yeah, it sounds like a terrible movie to me too, but it's not, a fact that The Lincoln Lawyer owes a thousand thanks to both McConaughey, and the source novel's page-turning qualities. I don't think I was quite aware of how damaged most of the flick's ingredients were until I had to write it all out, and in some strange way, I suppose that's a testament to how captivating the movie's mystery really is. Neither a must see nor a disaster, The Lincoln Lawyer is a crime drama for people who either really love the genre, or don't care about forking over ten bucks for something unremarkable and fleeting. Here's to hoping that McConaughey finds more roles like this one in the future, and, with any luck, in better movies.

Grade: C

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