A documentary about just what went wrong with the making of “Reasonable Doubt” would doubtless prove more involving than the movie itself, a turgid yuppie paranoia thriller of the sort that proliferated wildly 20-odd years ago in the wake of “Presumed Innocent” and “Pacific Heights.” Limping into theaters and simultaneous VOD play with understandably little fanfare — plus a pseudonym where the name of director Peter Howitt (“Sliding Doors,” “Laws of Attraction”) once stood — this utterly unmemorable, uninspired and unnecessary genre exercise should fade from view so fast they might just as soon have called it “Without a Trace.”
“Flightplan” scribe Peter A. Dowling (who should have thought seriously about the pseudonym route himself) is credited with concocting this tale of a rising young public prosecutor with his sights on the Chicago district attorney’s office who makes one of those fatal errors in judgment that, by the movie’s third act, turns into a heavy cross to bear. Driving home drunk after celebrating his latest victory, Mitch Brockden (Dominic Cooper) strikes a pedestrian with his car, gets out to help, then ponders the potential impact of these events on his career ambitions and hightails it out of there (after at least having the decency to place an anonymous 911 call from a pay phone).
By the next morning, an arrest has been made in the case: Clinton Davis (Samuel L. Jackson), a local car mechanic with no history of violence, is charged with murder after the body of the bloodied, battered pedestrian is found in the back of his van. Davis protests his innocence, claiming he was merely taking the hit-and-run victim to the hospital. Meanwhile, a guilt-wracked Mitch volunteers himself to prosecute the case, while secretly plotting to find a way to have Davis acquitted — no matter the conviction of a senior detective (Gloria Reuben) that Davis may in fact be a serial killer responsible for a recent string of unsolved homicides.
And from there, Dowling piles on the ludicrous contrivances with such haste as to suggest that he, too, may have been operating heavy machinery (or at least a laptop) while under the influence. No sooner does Mitch succeed in getting Davis freed than he, too, starts having second thoughts about Davis’ role in the events. So he once again takes the law into his own hands at considerable peril to himself and his family, tailing his suspect — and, at one point, even breaking into his house — with all the stealthy tact of the Scooby-Doo gang in their Mystery Machine. Nor is any character free of a convoluted backstory: a tragic personal loss for Davis, a secret ex-con step-brother for Brockden. Yet, even at all of 79 minutes (not counting end credits), “Reasonable Doubt” seems to be dragging its feet at every turn, straining to make it to the feature-length threshold.
In the ’40s and ’50s, movies not unlike “Reasonable Doubt” frequently brought up the rear of double- and triple-features, made by industrious B-movie craftsmen and second-tier contract players who knew they weren’t making great art but, in many cases, brought surprising energy and invention to their work that elevated the end product above its meager means. Nowadays, like all too much of the effectively direct-to-video dreck it exemplifies, “Reasonable Doubt” and movies like it seem to be made with all the enthusiasm of a career middle-manager dutifully punching a clock.
Saddled with a truly thankless role that requires him to glower menacingly and spout off reams of stultifying dialogue about his motives, Jackson indeed looks like a man primed to kill … his manager and agent.
Despite the Chicago setting and a few authentic Windy City exteriors, the pic was shot primarily on location in Winnipeg.