Jake Lassiter: Justice in the Bayou,” a two-hour movie and potential pilot for NBC, enjoys three strengths: Gerald McRaney’s colorful ex-football-player-turned dogged defense attorney, Robert Loggia’s amusing sidekick coroner and the Big Easy location flavor of New Orleans.
On the downside, the Stephen J. Cannell production, almost too typical of the genre, values a tangled murder plot over characterization, bringing precious little that is fresh to the mystery/suspense field.
The show also demonstrates how a small role can undermine a movie. A supporting player (enacted by McRaney’s jitterbug assistant Poppy Montgomery) is so poorly directed and annoyingly hyper that everything she says in her own brand of speed-talk comes out as gibberish.
For that matter, Tracy Scoggins as the simmering, kinky femme fatale, whose rich husband’s murky death triggers a malpractice suit against a devious surgeon (James B. Sikking), doesn’t fare well either. Scoggins is too bloodless and austere to hint at any semblance of life. Mercifully her hunky, hulky, thuggish old high-school flame and personal hit-man (muscular Eric Kramer) brings out the horny devil in Scoggins, in one of the movie’s private sex games.
Meantime, McRaney and Loggia (the latter really seems to be relishing a high old time) salvage things with an affable, scabrous camaraderie. In their best scene, they heist a body from a crypt and plunder it for murder evidence in an outrageously camp butcher shop of an autopsy complete with a blood-splattered smock, a whirring cranial saw and organs sitting on the slab next to the cadaver. McRaney connects with viewers’ stomachs by passing out.
There’s also a chilling scene starring killer Portuguese Man-of-War fish. These inducements, however, are offset by a dull, by-the-book romance between McRaney and a blond red herring (the otherwise spirited Daphne Ashbrook).
Essentially, the production, directed by Peter Markle from a teleplay by co-exec producer David Israel (adapted from the novel “To Speak for the Dead” by Paul Levine), is a campy “Rockford Files.”
Going far to redeem the production’s uneven tone is New Orleans itself. Charles Rosher’s atmospheric lensing skims the city’s unique cemeteries, quaint streets, bayous and its Garden District, right down to a passing red trolley car. Nice touch.