The Gingerbread Man
So many critics have accused John Grisham's cookie-cutter legal novels of serving as dry-runs for inevitable movies that it was only a matter of time before he tried his hand at screenwriting. And Grisham can actually be absolved of the blame for the disappointing The Gingerbread Man. He may have supplied the story, but all accusatory fingers should be pointed at director Robert Altman, who further drains his reputation surplus with this unoriginal and uninteresting piece of exploitation. Altman's two previous films, Kansas City and Ready To Wear, were disasters, and even Altman has to pay the bills, so he followed fellow fading Oscar favorite Francis Ford Coppola into Grisham's deep South. Give credit to Altman for radically revamping Grisham's clichés: The Gingerbread Man is no inspirational courtroom drama, the rain-soaked, spooky images no idealistic view of Savannah, and the uneasy, dark mood no recipe for box-office success. But there's no overcoming the fact that the film, save one predictable twist, is essentially yet another remake of Cape Fear, right down to the final confrontation on a boat during a storm. Kenneth Branagh plays (what else?) a brilliant Southern defense lawyer, who, after an ill-fated one-night stand with the mysterious Embeth Davidtz, is stalked by her loony father, Robert Duvall. As the suspense builds, so does an approaching hurricane, and both plot and weather explode simultaneously. While there's nothing new to be seen here, The Gingerbread Man is surprisingly creepy, and the actors, including an unrecognizable Daryl Hannah and a hammy Robert Downey Jr., do a respectable job with the material. But again it's Altman, with his repetitive camera angles, choppy direction, and distracting, dawdling shots, who robs this run-of-the-mill Hollywood thriller of the gloss and care it deserves.