Paul Newman bellies up to the bar as an alcoholic attorney in "The Verdict," Sidney Lumet's latest look at the law, a film that pushes viewer patience to the legal limits with its slow build-up.

Its main pick-me-up comes in the form of legal tender Charlotte Rampling. Not since James Cagney mugged Mae Clarke with a grapefruit has a starlet so deserved her comeuppance. Prostitution for the prosecution. Ruthless Rampling takes it on the lip for playing Mata Hari with Newman, who's trying for a courtroom comeback. It's a late scene with punch.

Early on, Lumet wastes too much time characterizing Newman, following him from bar to bar to bar. Though Newman plays a good drunk, his performance is far from intoxicating. When he rests his case, the jury goes to sleep.

The mystery begins when Newman's old partner (Jack Warden) comes up with a client, the sister of a "vegetable," victim of the anesthesiologist who wrote the book on putting people to sleep. Super barrister James Mason tries to settle the case out of court, but Newman decides it's his last chance to take a stand.

There are some fine scenes inside Mason's firm: Lumet delivers when it comes to indicting the law. One foray into the paneled lair of the legal elite underscores such excesses as coaching clients with videotape playbacks.

It would be unjust to quash "The Verdict." There are moments with flair and, of course, Rampling's cantilevered cheekbones. But, like all films, it ultimately will be judged in the peoples' court. THE VERDICT -- Flower Twin, NTI Marlow, NTI New Carrollton, NTI Jefferson, NTI White Flint, Old Town, Outer Circle, Reston Twins, Roth's Montgomery, Springfield Mall, Wheaton Plaza.