Picks and Pans Review: True Believer

updated 02/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

James Woods doesn't need a ponytail to let an audience know he's playing a weirdo. Woods radiates danger. But he is more than just the Bruce Dern of his generation, he has become a most curious leading man. In his best films, such as Salvador and Against All Odds, he has excelled as a firecracker on the fringe. In this courtroom drama he's a renegade Greenwich Village lawyer who defends drug dealers. When the D.A. tells him, "I think you're a dangerous man," Woods replies, "I hope so." Yet, surprisingly, this movie hands Woods one of his least interesting roles, ponytail notwithstanding. Into the True Believer's miserable life comes an idealistic young associate, Robert (Less Than Zero) Downey Jr., whose past incendiary performances mark him as a natural heir to Woods, although here he's costumed to look more like Judd Nelson. These unlikely colleagues accept the case of a Korean accused of a Chinatown murder. As they uncover corruption in the city government, Woods suffers the predictable crisis of conscience—and his protégé gets the obligatory instant education. Directed by Joseph (The Stepfather) Ruben, True Believer straitjackets two arresting actors into predictable melodrama. Watching it, the mind wanders to such impertinent questions as, "What are Cagney and Lacey doing right now?" (R)

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