1991, R, 104 min. Directed by Martin Campbell. Starring Barbara Hershey, Sam Shepard, Mary Beth Hurt, J.T. Walsh.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 30, 1991

Despite the fact that Defenseless has one of the best ensemble casts in a long while, Martin Campbell's (Criminal Law) new film is hardly much more than a flimsy retread of overly-familiar genre conventions and suspenseful plotting. Attorney T.K. Katwuller (Hershey) is in the midst of an affair with a client (Walsh) when he is killed. Was he a successful corporate warlord, or a sleazy member of the Los Angeles porno underground? This is a murder/thriller, so you can bet he was more than just a libidinous businessman. Screenwriter James Hicks has written a story that ought to grab our attention and never let go, but somewhere in the transition from words to images the heart of the movie disappeared without a trace. I can see just how great this probably looked on paper, but in the final product, the only greatness visible is in the cast, and even they seem to occasionally be wandering around without too much to do. Which is a major shame, considering the cumulative skills of the four majors. Perhaps it's just a sign of the times, but the mystery in Defenseless -- although it does have the requisite shady characters, missing evidence, hard-boiled detective, et al. -- is hardly as engaging as the relatively innocuous mystery of where you put your car keys last, or why the Braves are so darn lousy. I keep thinking that if only the producers had the good sense to allow mystery novelist Sue Grafton to pen the script, things might have turned out a little bit more interesting… then again, maybe not. Whichever, this may be your only chance this year to see Sam Shepard running around minus one of his front teeth. Not much of a draw, I know, but sadly, that's the most amazing thing about this film.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Martin Campbell Films
Neeson does the Neeson thing as a hit man, redemption, oh, you know …

Richard Whittaker, April 29, 2022

The Protégé
Outdated action flick wastes Maggie Q in double entrendres

Cody Song, Aug. 27, 2021

More by Marc Savlov
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
The Prince is dead, long live the Prince

Aug. 7, 2022

Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone
Texas-made luchadores-meets-wire-fu playful adventure

April 29, 2022


Defenseless, Martin Campbell, Barbara Hershey, Sam Shepard, Mary Beth Hurt, J.T. Walsh

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle