Picks and Pans Review: Criminal Law

updated 06/05/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/05/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Kevin Bacon, Gary Oldman

It confronts a troubling issue—defense attorneys' moral responsibility to society when they (knowingly or otherwise) defend guilty clients who go free to commit more crimes. But this film confronts that issue in such a slipshod, silly way its philosophical point gets lost.

There is an eerie tension in the relationship between serial killer Bacon (Footloose, She's Having a Baby) and yuppie lawyer Oldman (who made his mark in Sid and Nancy). When Oldman uses a bit of courtroom dipsy-do to get Bacon out of a murder charge, Bacon thinks he has found an ally. The elliptical attraction between them is reminiscent of the psycho-straight arrow pairing of Robert Walker and Farley Granger in Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. The way that attraction is worked through here, however, requires outrageously dumb behavior more reminiscent of a slasher movie.

Take the appealing Karen (Birdy) Young. Her roommate has just been brutally murdered. But she doesn't move out of her isolated, vulnerable home or get out of town or even buy a German shepherd. She helps Oldman investigate the crime and starts prowling around creepy places by herself. Oldman is investigating in the first place because he is so guilt-ridden. "They had that animal locked up, and I let him out to kill again!" he is driven to expostulate. Oldman may have an excuse for the hammy lines, since his (of course) critically ill mentor, a law professor played by Michael Sinelnicoff as a John Houseman impersonation, is given to reeling off aphorisms at the drop of a crisis: "The law is the dark shadow of justice"; "We're put here to take action; that's why we put sharp points on pencils and erasers on the other end." Bacon's lines—lots of "cleansing" and "purifying"—seem condensed from the Movie Murderer's Motivational Handbook.

Shot in Montreal and Quebec City (standing in for Boston), the film was directed by British television veteran Martin Campbell and written by Mark Kasdan, whose snappy screenplay for his brother Lawrence's Silverado would hardly have prepared anyone for the grim abyss he has concocted with Criminal Law. Give them credit for making a movie that shows some signs of being about something, anyway, but don't give them credit for too much else. (R)

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