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‘Guilty as Sin’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 04, 1993


Sidney Lumet
Rebecca DeMornay;
Don Johnson;
Stephen Lang;
Jack Warden
nudity, profanity and violence

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She's blond, he's bonkers, we're bored.

Hack screenwriter Larry "It's Alive" Cohen borrows millionaire hack screenwriter Joe "Sliver" Eszterhas's overworked recipe for terror in "Guilty as Sin," a career-wrecking mega-turkey that is scary only for anyone who had anything to do with it. Principally, it's a return -- perhaps even a homage -- to Eszterhas's 1985 courtroom thriller, "Jagged Edge."

Rebecca DeMornay, like Glenn Close in "Edge," plays a confident criminal attorney who wears tight skirts and is easily duped by a lady killer (Don Johnson), with consequences that are less dire than predictable. Hear our plea, O Hollywood: We have definitely been in this parking lot, down this dark corridor, in this stairwell, out on this ledge one too many times before.

The casting does, however, provide a measure of poetic justice. DeMornay, remembered as the nanny from hell in "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," gets back some of her own medicine and then some from Johnson, a suave psycho obsessed with the superlawyer who's defending him. Possessed of a perpetual smirk and a guilty swagger, Johnson might as well hand out pens, "Courtesy of Mr. Goodbar."

But DeMornay, being a stock thriller heroine, is duped by his extensive wardrobe of Armani suits. He may be a hostile gigolo accused of tossing his wife out the window, but he just seems too well dressed to be a serial killer. Well, he turns out to be the clotheshorse from hell, and you can just guess who is rocking whose cradle now. And from what skyscraper.

In case you don't know why they're behaving thusly, they'll be glad to tell you. Scripter Cohen, who specializes in schlock horror movies, has written great plodding explanations instead of dialogue. DeMornay, who has finally discovered that her client is a frequent wife-tosser, wants to turn him in but she can't because, as her detective friend (Jack Warden) explains, that would violate "attorney-client privilege. ... They'd just throw the cases out. And I can't turn him in either because I'm employed by you." Duh. Suffice to say, she finds a way, but not soon enough to spare us considerable pain.

The movie provides a feast of howlers, most delivered by Johnson, a cross between dolls Chucky and Ken in this unintentional self-parody. After making a turkey sandwich with too much mayo -- in an attempt to scare folks on a low-fat diet? -- he waggles his butcher knife in the protagonist's face. "Do I have to defend my lifestyle? Do I have to apologize for being me?" Well, yes, and on your knees, swine!

Sidney Lumet, the veteran director of "12 Angry Men" and "The Verdict," neither controls Johnson nor inspires DeMornay, who brings all the vivacity of a Denver boot to the role of briefcase-bearing bimbo. Lumet, whose last movie was the blonde-among-the-Hasidim thriller, "A Stranger Among Us," should see a script doctor about his basic instincts.

"Guilty as Sin" is rated R for nudity, profanity and violence.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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