Solid and entertaining, TNT's "Legalese" moves briskly with a nudge-nudge, wink-wink attitude through legal minefields, tabloid journalism, personal ethics and carnal lust. Cast, direction, script and photography come together quickly in the first 20 minutes, a mix of fear, deception and humor that will hold an audience until it all plays out, a little too cleanly, at the conclusion.

Solid and entertaining, TNT’s “Legalese” moves briskly with a nudge-nudge, wink-wink attitude through legal minefields, tabloid journalism, personal ethics and carnal lust. Cast, direction, script and photography come together quickly in the first 20 minutes, a mix of fear, deception and humor that will hold an audience until it all plays out, a little too cleanly, at the conclusion.

Model-turned-actress Angela Beale (Gina Gershon) is thrashing about in the hallway of her apartment, her cut face smeared with blood and makeup, and her clothes torn. She knocks on doors and flails away, hoping for a neighbor to find her distraught after having shot dead her sister’s husband, model Oskar Tabak (Julian Stone).

Sensing a firestorm, she hurries to the office of celeb lawyer and loophole master Norman Keane (James Garner). He suggests a defense strategy that involves the hiring of the new kid in the building, Roy Guyton (Ed Kerr), whose chance meeting with Keane impressed the legal vet.

Media interest in Beale is at a fever pitch and as Guyton plays up an Iowa farmboy image, tabloid TV anchorwoman Brenda Whitlass (Kathleen Turner) senses something’s askew, from his accent to his “hearing aid” to Keane’s involvement. Her snooping leads to some speedy bargaining from Keane, and he’s installed as her show’s legal specialist.

Meanwhile, Keane’s able-bodied assistant Rica Martin (Mary Louise Parker) has not only seduced Guyton, she’s hooking up with him in every nook and cranny in the office. When one videotape of a rendezvous winds up on Whitlass’ show, Guyton starts connecting the dots — and smart guy that he is — figures he’s been played for a fool by Keane, despite his having manipulated a great case for his client.

Legal ethics take a beating when Keane is around, and Garner plays the fast talker with a refreshing subtlety, avoiding heavy-handedness or pontificating. His engaging smile, which hides the smarmy undercurrent, gets him into the spotlight and, more than anything else, he’s a sturdy media manipulator.

His character is fleshed out best in Billy Ray’s durable script, filled with subplots too numerous to detail, leaving character-enhancing devices to the actors and direction. Turner plays Whitlass as harsh, determined and without morals; Parker is direct and develops emotionally as her relationship blossoms into more than sex; Kerr starts befuddled and hungry and gets a lesson in growing up.

Glenn Jordan’s direction is superb. He fills in the script’s holes with a quick glance or a short flashback, tipping his hand here and there without showing exactly what’s up next. As everyone starts to walk away clean from their transgressions, it feels a bit too tidy. Then again, recent legal fiascoes have gone that way, haven’t they?

Stewart Copeland’s score gives a tip of the hat to “The Rockford Files” but otherwise focuses on the potential levity of the scenes. Well-shot and edited, tech credits are stellar.

Legalese

TNT; Sun. Oct. 4, 8 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by New Line Television. Executive producer, J. Paul Higgins; producers, Cindy Hornickel, Glenn Jordan; director, Jordan; writer, Billy Ray

Cast

Norman Keane - James Garner Angela Beale - Gina Gershon Rica Martin - Mary Louis Parker Roy Guyton - Ed Kerr Brenda Whitlass - Kathleen Turner Harley Guyton - Brian Doyle-Murray Randy Mucklan - Scott Michael Campbell Judge Handley - Keene Curtis Kurt Lee - Matthew Glave Oskar Tabak - Julian Stone With: Brent Briscoe, Frank Buckley, Patrick Dancy, Cliff Emmich, Regan Forman, Dale Harimoto, Rosanna Huffman, Wendy Kamenoff, Eric Kenleyside, Enid Kent, Kerry Kilbride, Julie Lauren.
Camera, Tobias Schliessler; production designer, Charles Rosen; editor, Bill Blunden; music, Stewart Copeland; casting, Linda Lowy, John Brace. 2 HOURS.
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