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Weekly Alibi Court Jesters

By Devin D. O'Leary

Trial & Error, the newest courtroom chuckle-fest from director Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny) tries its best to disguise itself as a wacky, madcap comedy. In the end, though, it fails miserably and exposes itself as a fairly intelligent, witty exercise with some surprising emotional content.

Jeff Daniels plays Charlie Tuttle, an uptight yuppified lawyer who's about to marry the boss' daughter. Michael Richards plays Richard Rietti, an unemployed actor and soon-to-be best man who's ready to throw old Charlie the bachelor party of a lifetime. At the last second, though, Charlie is dispatched to a dirtwater town in Nevada to handle some secret family legal matter for his father-in-law-to-be. Richard follows, bachelor party in tow and, expectedly, things get a little out of hand. Hung-over and stunned from a barroom brawl, Charlie is unable to perform his lawyerly duties. Richard does his best man best and steps up to the plate to pinch hit for his pal. All he's got to do is put on a jacket and tie and ask the judge for a continuance. It's "just a walk-on" in Richard's mind. Unfortunately, the judge doesn't grant the continuance. The case is going to trial and now Richard is forced to continue the ruse.

Yes, the set-up is fairly preposterous. But Daniels and Richards establish a good rapport with each other. They really do feel like lifelong friends whose career paths have simply diverged. It's not inconceivable that Richard would step into the breach to save his friend's ass. Daniels isn't doing much more than playing off his "uptight yuppie whose world is falling apart" persona from Something Wild (the character even has the same name), but what the hell, he's good at it. Not surprisingly, the filmmakers force Michael Richards to hew pretty close to his TV character of Kramer on "Seinfeld." For the first half of the movie he's saddled with the same crazy '50s fashions and a string of wacky pratfalls. It's these trips and slips that are so lovingly highlighted in Trial & Error's movie trailer. That's a shame, because they're really an unnecessary affectation. Richards is a funny actor without the spit-take stuff, and the script by husband/wife, lawyer/screenwriter team Greg and Sara Bernstein is strong enough to stand on its own without the goofball antics.

Once the basic situation has been established, Trial & Error doles out its plot points with the predictable regularity of a Reno blackjack dealer. Charlie is an uptight yuppie, and since such creatures aren't allowed to exist in movies, he's going to have to become a loose, with-it bohemian type by movie's end. To help things along, his bride is an annoying rich bitch type. Naturally, we're expected to hate her and hope that Charlie comes to his senses, dumps her before the wedding and hooks up with some cute, sincere girl. In this case, the cute, sincere girl is local waitress and stargazer Billie (Charlize Theron). Theron is a South African model who made her big screen bow in last year's Two Days in the Valley. The lanky

Theron has a natural screen presence and a sparkle in her eye that would kill a normal man at 30 paces. Not too surprising that Charlie would go ga-ga for her. What is surprising, though, is the amount of emotion that goes into this romantic falderal. Charlie and Billie's road to love is simple and honest with nary a hint of bedroom farce.

Trial & Error may look like a lame-brained follow-up to Dumb & Dumber, but this is America, and everyone is innocent until proven guilty. With its believable script, its sympathetic acting and its witty direction, this is one comedy that deserves its day in court.

--Devin D. O'Leary

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