Trial and Error
1997, PG-13, 98 min. Directed by Jonathan Lynn. Starring Michael Richards, Jeff Daniels, Charlize Theron, Rip Torn, Austin Pendleton.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 30, 1997
There's a very fine line between formulaic comedies and bizarre torture devices that render viewers insensate with ennui while precious brain cells die yawning by the thousands. Jonathan Lynn's (Sgt. Bilko) new offering manages to fall into both camps simultaneously, artlessly elevating the former into the realm of the latter, while raising the question: “Why even bother?” Obviously, someone, somewhere along the line, decided Seinfeld regular Richards would be just swell in a low-brow buddy comedy of this ilk, and all things considered, he's not so terrible. Fans of Richards' Kramer character will recognize many of the actor's well-worn schticks, as most of his work in Trial and Error is copped part and parcel from his sitcom salad days. Still, “a Kramer by any other name….” Daniels plays Charlie Tuttle, a high-powered defense lawyer who, on the eve of his impending marriage to the boss' daughter, is sent to the backwoods of Nevada to handle the case of a family friend accused of 64 counts of fraud. Coincidentally, it's the same day Charlie's buddy Richard Riette (Richards) -- an aspiring actor -- has planned a lavish bachelor party for his soon-to-be-wedded pal. Against his better instincts, Charlie gives in to Richard's pressuring and has “just one drink,” which turns into 10 drinks, which, of course, turns into catastrophe for his court date the next morning. Far too hung over to even crawl out of bed, much less handle a simple continuance, Richard attends in Charlie's place, and when the continuance is denied, he must continue the felonious charade to the bitter end. From this premise, occasional laughs ensue, but they're few and far between. Meanwhile, Charlie begins to doubt the validity of his feelings for his fiancée when he meets a leggy, blonde waitress named Billie (Theron), whose simple, homespun ways and wisdom send his already skewed reality into further gridlock. To be fair, Trial and Error isn't really any worse than any of the other buddy-type yuck-fests to come down the pike in recent years, but it's certainly no better, either. Tired clichés, cheap gags (one with Daniels falling through the courtroom ceiling while trying to eavesdrop should have been retired circa Hope and Crosby's final Road jaunt), and uninspired performances abound, although Austin Pendleton's wry take as the bemused Judge Graff is vaguely entertaining -- in the way a bug crawling on your forearm is briefly of passing interest. Lynn's direction is thoroughly unremarkable and workmanlike, and even Richards' spastic Kramer-esque hijinks fall short of outright hilarity. About the only thing Lynn's film has going for it is the title: Paying good money to view this mess would be both a trial and an error.