Sometimes the best thing a film has going for it is its trailer. Such is the case with the Lionsgate release “The Lincoln Lawyer.” The Matthew McConaughey vehicle based on the Michael Connelly novel is a vanilla, tension-deprived crime drama that has the crimes, but lacks both the smarts to be a solid courtroom drama and the thrill of a good thriller. The previews promise a mix of all three, but the film delivers on only one.
When Mr. McConaughey is not showing up in mindless, uninspired romantic comedies, he is often a talented and interesting actor, and his casting here as Mick Haller, an unscrupulous but immensely charming defense attorney who eschews uptight offices and instead conducts business from the backseat of his Lincoln Town Car, is right on the money. Speaking of money, Mick takes on some seedy clientele in order to fatten his pockets, even though his driver, Earl (Mick has a D.U.I., we are initially told, and cannot drive himself), wisely advises against it.
The tone, however, is misguided from the outset. The opening credits show a montage of Mick and Earl cruising from Beverly Hills to downtown L.A. to Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City.” The song would have been perfect if, say, Mick were a lawyer in a gritty city like New York, Detroit, or even parts of Chicago, but sunny, southern Los Angeles and ‘70s soul (of which the soundtrack features more) are a misguided pairing.
Mick, a hustler at heart, is handed a client by a sleazy buddy played by John Leguizamo. The client, Louis Roulet, a high-powered real estate agent whose wealthy family promises Mick lots of cash to get their son off charges of assaulting a prostitute. Ryan Phillippe, as Roulet, fails to convince us of much of anything except that he is a sleazy dude, but he never gives us pause as, say, Edward Norton’s wrongfully convicted man (or was he?) did in “Primal Fear.”
A strong supporting cast is wasted, including Marisa Tomei as his ex-something, with whom he shares a daughter. The two constantly reconnect, drunkenly, in bars as they vie for the title of worst movie-
parents ever. Josh Lucas plays Mick’s nemesis as a prosecutor who is forever stumped by Mick’s curveballs in court and by a judge who will allow just about anything, apparently. The tension dissipates when there is not even the slightest doubt that Mick will not ultimately prevail.
A pleasant, albeit predictable, character arc occurs when Mick has to decide what is more important, money or justice, and when his family is threatened. William H. Macy is good as a P.I. trying to dig up the dirt on Roulet, but he is jettisoned from the action halfway through the film.
Director Brad Furman muddles the proceedings with unnecessary zooms and EXTREME close-ups. When a cast is talented, sometimes it is good to pull back and let the actors do their thing. Except for McConaughey, that is rarely permitted in “The Lincoln Lawyer.”
Running time 118 minutes. Rated R for some violence, sexual content and language.