Physical Evidence

physicalevidenceAt a point late in Physical Evidence, public defender Theresa Russell turns to client Burt Reynolds and mutters the hokiest line in a movie full of hokey lines: “How did I ever get mixed up with you?”

Well she might ask. Russell is an actress whose career has been on a steady upward curve, mixing commercial movies (Black Widow) with her husband Nicolas Roeg’s more stylishly esoteric films (lnsignjficance, Track 29). With Physical Evidence, a project that would appear to have a measure of box-office success built into it, Russell steps straight into an unequivocal clunker.

It would be easy to blame this stinker on Burt Reynolds, the once-bright star who’s been jinxed for the last few years. Reynolds’ bad luck seems to be rubbing off on everything be touches. It’s been so terrible lately that he’s even gone back to television to try to revive his career.

However, Reynolds turns out to be the best thing about Physical Evidence. He plays a short-fused Boston cop who’s suspected in the murder of a sleazeball. Russell is the defense attorney who doesn’t quite know whether she should believe him. Does this sound at all like Jagged Edge or Suspect? It should, but only to the extent that this thing almost makes those movies look good.

The case, such as it is, dribbles along in its way to an entirely expected conclusion. Michael Crichton, who directed, is a kind of jack-of-all-trades who occasionally comes up with a dumbly entertaining movie (as with the loopy Tom Selleck sc-fi film Runaway). But Crichton can manage only a morbidly amusing prologue here in which a would-be suicide is distracted by a corpse just before he’s about to jump from a bridge. (The suicide has tied a sign around his neck that says, “Sorry Now?”) But the film is mostly humorless, and exceedingly drab-­looking; Crichton’s idea for a scene topper is to have Theresa Russell flip the bird to the prosecutor (Ned Beatty).

So there is Burt Reynolds, who appears to be attempting an interesting characterization in his first few scenes. He’s got the look and the movements down. His cop is a weary professional, a man of violence whose hair is showing gray and whose stomach is going to fat. Reynolds has a real bead on the guy, but then the movie seems to lose interest in him, and the formula takes over. Nice try, Burt, but the jury is still out.

First published in the Herald, January 28, 1989

Izzat a socko title or what? Physical Evidence is what it’s called, all sexed up and ready to fit into the 80s run of legal thrillers. Crichton did not direct a feature again, but returned successfully to his day job. For the record, Henry Mancini did the music and John Alonzo shot this one.

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