The NYC cops are out to nail a columnist who’s been writing tell-all stories about police corruption in “Choice of Evils,” the second update of “The Defenders” (first was Showtime’s “Payback” in October). Penned by Andy Wolk, Peter Wolk, Reginald Rose and Thomas Rose, the whole venture’s a comedown from a once-proud and brilliant 1960s series.
New editions ignore the symmetry and subtleties of the original hourlong courtroom dramas devised by Reginald Rose and centering on the defense team of Preston & Preston. E.G. Marshall returns to lend his dignity and good name as Lawrence Preston, whose late, proper son Ken (played by the late Robert Reed in the original series) has been supplanted by Beau Bridges as Ken’s less subtle, less Brooks Bros. brother, Don. It’s a tight squeeze. Martha Plimpton forcibly steps in as M.J. Preston, Ken’s tough ex-D.A. daughter. The casting’s tough to buy.
A credible James McDaniel limns newsman Jack Casey, who’s been wrongly convicted of murder. The Prestons, certain of his innocence, take on his case and lose it for him. Accidentally sprung from jail, he takes off but is picked up by a revengeful cop who tries putting him away in a tenement cellar.
Director and co-writer Andy Wolk doesn’t muster much believability from the run-of-the-mill story. Inevitably to be compared with the civilized, even intellectual, series on which it’s based, present outing not only lacks the original polish, it plays like its loud, heavy-footed contempo rivals over on network TV.
The staccato “adult language” used by the bad guys, by M.J. and by the cops distracts; tossed in for “realism” and for “toughness,” it suggests a lack of creative fertility. Characters played by Cagney, Bogart, Muni, Garfield and their ilk didn’t need such verbal crutches to establish their mettle. It also conflicts with Lawrence Preston’s code; he’s above that sort of thing.
A distinguished Melanie Nicholls-King plays Casey’s put-upon wife, Sarah, and Lisa Gay Hamilton creates Jeanne Baptiste, a touch-ingly effective Haitian witness. Oliver Becker convinces as Brian Clarke, a cop out to do in Casey, and Jon Polito does a solid job as D.A. Al Orsini.
Any resemblance to the earlier “Defenders” is only superficial. Anthony Cowley’s production design may not shout “New York,” but it’s acceptable. John Newby’s lensing and Lauren Schaffer’s slick editing are good. David Goldblatt and Mark Isham have furnished an insistent score, but it doesn’t help disguise the less-than-cerebral, routine actioner.
Marshall, at least, keeps up the image.