Trial and Error (Comedy — Color) A New Line Cinema release of a Larger Than Life production. Produced by Gary Ross, Jonathan Lynn. Executive producers, Mary Parent, Allen Alsobrook. Directed by Jonathan Lynn. Screenplay, Sarah Bernstein, Gregory Bernstein; story, Sarah and Gregory Bernstein, Cliff Gardner. Camera (CFI color, Panavision widescreen), Gabriel Beristain; editor, Tony Lombardo; music, Phil Marshall; production design, Victoria Paul; art direction, Philip Messina; costume design, Shay Cunliffe; sound (Dolby SDDS), Joseph Urbanczyk; associate producers, Jane DeVries Cooper, Edward Lynn; assistant director, Matthew Rowland; casting, Terry Liebling. Reviewed at New Line Cinema screening room, L.A., May 17, 1997. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 98 min. Richard Rietti ….. Michael Richards Charles Tuttle ….. Jeff Daniels Billie Tyler ….. Charlize Theron Elizabeth Gardner ….. Jessica Steen Judge Paul Z. Graff ….. Austin Pendleton Benny Gibbs ….. Rip Torn Tiffany Whitfield ….. Alexandra Wentworth Jacqueline ….. Jennifer Coolidge Whitfield ….. Lawrence Pressman Dr. German Stone ….. Dale Dye Dr. Brown ….. Max Casella Trial and Error” is a farce in which circumstance dictates that an actor pose as a lawyer and win an important case for an indisposed advocate. With a cute title and a cute premise, the comedy doesn’t quite rock the solar plexus, but is pleasant, amusing and periodically inspired. That should add up to solid mid-range numbers in domestic theatrical. Ancillaries should be buoyant, but international returns will only be so-so, owing to pic’s uniquely American appeal. The story begins one week before the nuptials of Charles Tuttle (Jeff Daniels) and Tiffany Whitfield (Alexandra Wentworth). He’s a rising corporate lawyer in L.A. and she’s the boss’s princess daughter. Charlie’s buddy — the virtually unemployable actor Richard Rietti (Michael Richards) — is primed for his best-man chores. But before anything can proceed, mouthpiece Charlie has to drive to Nevada and defend the hopelessly guilty Whitfield relative Benny Gibbs (Rip Torn) in a class action fraud suit; Gibbs’ mail-order Lincoln copper engraving was literally a red cent. Charlie arrives at the desert trial site only to discover that Richard has already set up camp for a surprise stag party. Although he insists that he must prep the case, the honoree quickly exceeds his drinking limit and can’t be stirred the following morning. So his pal steps into the courtroom, posing as Charlie, to ask for a continuance. Unfortunately, the local D.A. (Jessica Steen) won’t postpone the case, and the judge (Austin Pendleton) takes her side. Richard’s good intentions will have haunting consequences. By the time the real advocate comes to his senses, a lot of the damage simply can’t be undone. Somehow Charlie will have to teach his actor friend not only how to behave like a lawyer, but the subtleties of winning the case. For director Jonathan Lynn this is familiar turf. Five years ago he dealt a winning hand with “My Cousin Vinnie,” a yarn of an impostor lawyer defending a relative in an American backwater. But the “Trial and Error” screenplay, by Sarah and Gregory Bernstein, has less anarchic spirit than “Vinnie” and a more serious underlying message. It allows its characters to step back from their official postures and examine their true selves. Thankfully, the gravity of the material is doled out gingerly. “Seinfeld” regular Richards, receiving top billing for his first leading film role, is an outsize presence kept suitably under rein by the director. The anchor of the piece is Daniels, the unsung glue of a number of recent comedies. Here his character has a romantic side too, with charming newcomer Charlize Theron as an underachiever waiting tables. Steen is an effective foil to Richards, and vets Torn and Pendleton put in reliable, colorful thesping turns. Tech work is polished, with cameraman Gabriel Beristain serving up some stunning widescreen vistas that are unusual for the genre. “Trial and Error” is a breezy confection for a summer’s day that effectively conjures up a smile.