Legal thriller “The Lincoln Lawyer” is a quintessential airport-novel kind of movie, possessing no great qualities or ambitions. As such, it’s easy enough to just soak up star Matthew McConaughey’s good-ol’-boy appeal and overlook the film’s stilted dialogue, bizarre directorial indulgences, excessive running time and boilerplate “Law and Order”-style narrative, though anyone hoping for more will be frustrated at every turn. A stellar cast and the popularity of source novelist Michael Connelly should drive decent business, and the Lionsgate release ought to be a staple on weekend afternoon cable.
Keeping his abs tastefully concealed for the first time in recent memory, McConaughey struts through the picture as Los Angeles defense attorney Mick Haller, a smooth talker and hard drinker who does business out of a vintage Lincoln Continental. We can assume he’s good-hearted as he’s played by Matthew McConaughey, we know he’s streetwise because his streetwise driver tells us so, and the early scenes paint him as being so rakishly clever that one half expects Elmer Fudd to show up opposite him in court.
Mick’s clientele seems harmless enough — mostly comprised of bikers and good-humored call girls — until a friendly bail bondsman (John Leguizamo) hooks him up with a defendant from a far higher tax bracket: Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a Beverly Hills blueblood accused of badly beating a prostitute in an attempted rape and murder. Louis insists he’s being set up by the girl, yet maintains a perplexing insistence that the case go to trial as quickly as possible.
As expected, things are not what they seem, and Mick’s investigator (William H. Macy, testing out some curious vocal inflections) unearths evidence that has repercussions for a closed case from Mick’s past. Gestures toward a romantic subplot arrive in the form of Mick’s prosecuting attorney ex-wife (Marisa Tomei), though she’s given little to do except frequently drive our hero home from the bar.
“The Lincoln Lawyer” betrays some of the classic signs of an overly faithful adaptation, as several characters barely glimpsed in the film are referred to throughout as though the audience is intimately familiar with their peccadilloes and past histories. It’s also the rare thriller that actually gets more expository as it goes on: At first it assumes the audience is familiar with attorney-client privilege, only to pause later on to explain it in detail, and a late-breaking twist is revealed and then disregarded with almost comical offhandedness.
Director Brad Furman (“The Take”) shoots the film with a borderline-hyperreal degree of stylization, using an oversaturated color palette and tossing in ample whip pans and sudden swooping zooms. He demonstrates a perfectly competent hand with all of these techniques, but it’s never clear why he’s chosen to employ them, and the shooting style is at times weirdly out of sync with what’s happening in front of the camera.
Pic at least deserves praise for its location scouting, shooting in the gritty, industrial corners of L.A. so infrequently glimpsed on film. Other technical work is of a uniformly professional caliber.