'The Firm'

Once you've gotten past the casting -- Josh Lucas in the central role, with Molly Parker, Juliette Lewis and Callum Keith Rennie as support -- what really stands out is how sluggish the pilot is.

As a series derived from a John Grisham novel previously turned into a Tom Cruise movie, originality wasn’t destined to be “The Firm’s” strong suit. Yet once you’ve gotten past the casting — Josh Lucas in the central role, with Molly Parker, Juliette Lewis and Callum Keith Rennie as support — what really stands out is how sluggish the pilot is. Despite a serialized thread and foreshadowing device, the premiere — which ought to establish the premise — plays like a stale “Law & Order” episode. As opening arguments go, the two-hour launch does little to press “The Firm’s” case.

Lucas plays Mitchell McDeere, 10 years after the events in “The Firm,” when the same young associate realized he was working for a corrupt law firm, outsmarting both his colleagues and the Feds. While the lapse explains his age, it’s made any link between the series and source material — as developed by Lukas Reiter, a “Law & Order” alum — tenuous at best.

Having left the Witness Protection Program, Mitch is now trying to make it with a solo practice, with his brother/investigator Ray (Rennie) and secretary Tammy (Lewis) as his staff. The pilot opens, however, with Mitch on the run, teasingly hinting at a larger conspiracy obviously meant to keep the audience from drifting off during the courtroom action that follows, involving a 14-year-old accused of murder and the victim’s grieving family.

At the same time, Mitch is being recruited by another big firm, looking to establish a criminal-law unit to complement its corporate clientele. While Mitch, his wife (Parker) and their young daughter (Natasha Calis) could use the money, he admits to having been “a little scarred by our last firm experience.” Ya think?

A square-jawed hero with a solid feature resume, Lucas certainly looks like a potential series star, but as constituted, Mitch is such a boring straight-arrow — agonizing over one moral dilemma after another — there’s precious little to keep him interesting. The pilot manages to take a guy who’s supposed to be a brilliant legal mind and make him look like a McDeere in the headlights.

Ditto for his family relationships, with even the characters played by Rennie and Lewis (other than her short skirts) — who were certainly colorful in the movie — having little to distinguish them.

After a difficult fall, NBC has been pointing toward midseason, when playoff football — including the Super Bowl — ought to provide a springboard to promote new programs. That said, this first big salvo (previewing Sunday before sliding into its regular Thursday spot) is so flat that it figures only to ratchet up pressure on what’s to come.

Granted, “The Firm” does possess built-in name recognition and star appeal, and there’s always the possibility the serialized elements will bloom. Based on the available evidence, though, the series is a pretty good metaphor for the original law firm: outwardly slick and polished, but with a hollow core.

The Firm

Sun. Jan. 8, 9 p.m.

Production

Credits: Filmed in Toronto by Entertainment One (E1 Television) in association with Sony Pictures Television Networks and Paramount Pictures. Executive producers, John Grisham, Lukas Reiter, John Morayniss, Noreen Halpern, Michael Rosenberg; co-executive producers, Peter Noah, Helen Shaver; producer, Paula Devonshire; director, David Straiton; writer, Reiter; based upon the novel by Grisham.

Crew

Camera, Adam Swica; production designer, Karen Bromley; editor, Jane Kass; music, Trevor Morris; casting, Sharon Bialy, Jenny Lewis. 120 MIN.

Cast

Mitchell McDeere - Josh Lucas
Ray McDeere - Callum Keith Rennie
Abby McDeere - Molly Parker
Tammy Hemphill - Juliette Lewis
With: Natasha Calis.
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