It doesn’t take a criminal mastermind to know that when establishing a TV mystery franchise, you need to call upon pros like Scott Turow and Mary Higgins-Clark. They and other bestselling crime writers have been tapped to inaugurate TNT’s umbrella “Mystery Movie” banner, kicking off the six-film event with Turow’s “Innocent,” a sequel to the popular book turned feature “Presumed Innocent.” While lacking the goods to impress fans of the novel or even of the 1990 Alan Pakula film, it should satisfy the average armchair sleuth.
In their late ’70s heyday, mystery wheel titles like “McMillan and Wife,” “Columbo” and “McCloud” were a staple. Granted, crime dramas have never gone out of style, but these days, it’s more about the procedure and minutiae of detective work or the gross-out factor of forensic science.
At first glance the Turow adaptation offers a tantalizing plot, picking up 20 years after the whodunit shocker ending of “Presumed Innocent,” as the recriminations of past events have caught up with everyone involved. Rusty (Bill Pullman, stepping into Harrison Ford’s role) is an appellate judge balancing a tense and guilt-ridden relationship with his emotionally charged wife Barbara (Marcia Gay Harden). The two put on a decent face for their law grad son Nat (Callard Harris), but Rusty soon strays with his young promising law clerk, Anna (“True Blood’s” Mariana Klaveno). When Barbara dies in her sleep, an apparent death by natural causes case dredges up old grudges and new enemies.
A legal thriller in the sense that it ensconces viewers in the tight-knit, nepotistic circle of lawyers, clerks and judges, the new movie has all of the left-over baggage of “Presumed Innocent” but none of the courtroom finesse and tense whodunit qualities. At times, it feels like marriage counseling wrapped up with legal red tape.
Writer-director Mike Robe does a nice job of exploring the repercussions of life choices, and if young Rusty was about passion and justice, the older version is about guilt and retribution. Pic also offers a solid supporting part for Richard Schiff as Tommy Molto, the “Presumed Innocent” prosecutor, who is still looking for justice even if his life and priorities have changed.