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‘Guilty as Sin’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 04, 1993


Sidney Lumet
Rebecca DeMornay;
Don Johnson;
Stephen Lang;
Jack Warden
Under 17 restricted

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Like a runner who makes a mad dash for second base, changes his mind, tears back to first base, then decides to go for second again, "Guilty as Sin" scrambles frantically between choices. Should it be a formulaic courtroom thriller or tweak itself with weird fun and games?

"Guilty" eventually opts for formula. But this cheaply made cat-and-mouse drama between Don Johnson and Rebecca De Mornay is so laughable, even that strategy falls on its face. As the movie lies in a bewildered, dusty heap, the umpire's call is clear: out, out, out!

Power attorney De Mornay has just saved another sleazy gangster from jail, when dapper Johnson solicits her services. His rich wife just took a fatal tumble from their apartment window. He's a self-admitted womanizer who stands to gain her inheritance money. And just before her death, his wife apparently sent a letter to state authorities fearing Johnson might murder her. He could use a lawyer.

Johnson's so outrageously honest about his playboy slickness yet so adamant about his innocence that De Mornay decides to represent him as a personal challenge. It's her biggest mistake. It's also time for more client-from-hell harassment made tediously familiar by "Jagged Edge," "Basic Instinct" and a caseload of other movies.

The weird elements don't redeem the movie, but they render it, uh, more interesting than the average Disney adult venture. De Mornay, a one-dimensionally sketched, film-noirish character, has no problem defending criminals or talking tough with her white-male superiors at the law firm. But, in the movie's strangest bit of business, this macho proto-feminist saunters into lawyer-boyfriend Stephen Lang's office and shows him a submissive trick worthy of Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman." The operative word here is huh?

In an update on Robert Walker's gentleman rogue in "Strangers on a Train," Johnson lampoons his lady-killing, and the shtick is entertaining for a while. In the movie's best moment, an attractive woman offers to buy him a drink. "I already have one," he replies, "but you can pay for it." Before she can reply, he tells the bartender to put his drink on her tab. As I said, that's the movie's best moment.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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