Picks and Pans Review: Suspect

updated 11/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

It has always been so easy to like Cher that it is a thoroughgoing pleasure now to be able to admire her too. Any lingering doubts about her being an accomplished actress should be dispelled by this film, which she and Dennis Quaid carry on sheer force of personality. The film's director, the erratic Peter (Breaking Away, Eleni) Yates, and its writer, newcomer Eric Roth, provide them with only the barest framework of a story: A used-up Washington, D.C., public defender (Cher) reluctantly takes on the case of a deaf-mute accused of murder. When the case comes to trial, she winds up entangled with a juror, Quaid, who takes a sudden personal interest in justice as well as in the legal talent. As for the plot...well, if coincidences had weight, you'd need a crane to lift this film. Among the oh-come-on contrivances, try this: Quaid, a slick dairy-industry lobbyist, decides to investigate the murder in his spare time during the trial and starts prowling around the slummiest D.C. areas in the middle of the night. Does he get his head bashed in, would you guess, or does he find the missing witness? What's remarkable is that Cher and Quaid are able to sustain any interest at all. Yet Cher seems convincingly burned out, and Quaid, who is not above sleeping with a Congress-woman to gain a vote crucial for dairies, suggests the glimmerings of conscience behind the hustle. There are other deft performances too. Irish actor Liam Neeson, as the defendant, manages to convey a lot of despair and frustration with zero lines. E. Katherine (Children of a Lesser God) Kerr, as the Representative who finds Quaid among her strange bedfellows, has a touchingly haunted quality. The cast has a hopeless task, like a team of chefs who have been ordered to make a gourmet meal out of bread crumbs, radishes and cold gravy. But it's fun watching them try. (R)

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