Beyond a Reasonable Doubt -- Film Review

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In theory, digging into the RKO archives for remake possibilities is a fine idea, but this redo of Fritz Lang's 1956 film noir is no improvement on a potboiler that was no great shakes to begin with. Director-screenwriter Peter Hyams has said that he wanted to redo this legal thriller with younger stars, but the lack of charisma exhibited by leads Jesse Metcalfe and Amber Tamblyn doesn't help matters, and not even the stalwart presence of Michael Douglas fails to provide the proceedings with sufficient gravitas.

As is typical with remakes, this incarnation suffers from a bloated running time nearly a half-hour longer than the original and several gratuitous actions sequences that don't add appreciably to the suspense level.

The convoluted plot revolves around the efforts of ambitious TV reporter C.J. Nicholas (Metcalfe) to get the goods on a corrupt and politically ambitious district attorney (Douglas) whom he suspects of planting evidence. Along with his eager-beaver cameraman (Joel David Moore), C.J. improbably sets out to get himself accused of the murder of a prostitute, contriving evidence after the fact that will reveal the D.A.'s crooked methods.

Needless to say, his plan goes awry when he's sentenced to the death penalty and the exculpating evidence is gotten rid of by the D.A.'s chain-smoking henchman.
Complicating matters further is C.J.'s burgeoning romantic relationship with a lawyer (Tamblyn) working for the D.A. who naturally finds herself facing a serious conflict of interest.

The far-fetched plot might have worked if it had been executed with more stylistic finesse and if the performances were more engaging, but Metcalfe's protagonist is hard to root for, Tamblyn's love interest is bland, and Douglas is unable to make his one-dimensional role remotely credible.

Hyams' screenplay mainly ignores the social aspects of the original, which took a highly dim view of the death penalty. As is usual for the helmer, he also serves as his own cinematographer, with the results displaying his usual technical slickness.

Opens: Friday, Sept. 11 (Anchor Bay Films)
Production: Autonomous Films/Foresight Unlimited/RKO Pictures/Signature Entertainment
Cast: Jesse Metcalfe, Amber Tamblyn, Michael Douglas, Joel David Moore, Orlando Jones
Director-screenwriter-director of photography: Peter Hyams
Producers: Moshe Diamant, Mark Damon, Michael P. Flanagan, Ted Hartley
Executive producers: Prince Faisal S. Al-Saud, Stephanie Cabeb, Michael Helfant, Laura Ivey, Aaron Ray, Steven Saxton, Courtney Solomon
Editor: Jeff Gullo
Production designer: James A. Gelarden
Costume designer: Susana Puisto
Music: David Shire
Rated PG-13, 105 minutes