Picks and Pans Review: The Star Chamber

updated 09/05/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/05/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Question: If the bad guys are getting off these days because the courts are too lenient, what can be done? Answer: Kill them. That's the premise of this paranoid suspense thriller by Peter Hyams, who also directed Capricorn One, another paranoid suspense thriller. It almost works. Michael Douglas, looking very unhappy and intense, plays a Los Angeles superior court judge. He becomes increasingly angry as case after grisly case (a child murder, the slaying of helpless old women) is dismissed on legal technicalities. Enter Hal Holbrook, a crusty superior court judge. He reveals that a small group of judges have taken matters into their own hands. Called the Star Chamber (after a 15th-century arbitrary and tyrannical tribunal in England) they mete out extralegal punishment by hiring executioners. Douglas, though first sputtering all kinds of idealistic patter, joins up. Then he discovers that two men who he was sure had molested, tortured and killed a young boy are in fact innocent. He appeals to Holbrook to stop their execution, which had been ordered by the Star Chamber, but Holbrook tells him it's too late. Douglas enlists the help of honest cop Yaphet (Blue Collar) Kotto and tries to get to the men before the murderer does. It makes for a thrilling chase scene, but there's something wrong. Douglas' own complicity makes him less than a sympathetic hero. And since in the end he can't accept the Star Chamber's solution to crime, where does that leave him? In limbo, like the audience. Director Hyams' sleek, slick movie is emotionally unsatisfying. Everyone, in one way or another, turns out to be a villain. (R)

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