Legalese

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Legalese

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Legalese

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Is there a lazier way to suggest the decadence and depravity of modern-day society than to show a character flipping through TV channels, each of which displays a different example of just how bad things have become? Bulworth, Natural Born Killers, and Hurlyburly all feature this Gomorrah-by-way-of-digital-cable motif, and it pops up again early in Legalese, a bantamweight media satire that premiered on TNT. Legalese stars Edward Kerr as a neophyte lawyer who's handed the case of a lifetime—the murder trial of an up-and-coming actress (Gina Gershon)—by a Robert Shapiro-like celebrity lawyer (James Garner). For its first hour or so, Legalese works reasonably well as a facile but entertainingly low-key spoof of high-profile tabloid trials and the legal barracudas who profit from them. But about an hour in, Legalese gives in to its squishy center and degenerates into an almost embarrassingly simplistic morality play, as Kerr learns the shocking secret that sometimes big-money lawyers and their innocence-impaired clients act in immoral ways. Similarly damaging is a tacked-on subplot involving Brian Doyle-Murray as Kerr's absent father, who shows up at odd intervals to encourage his son to do the right thing. It both helps and hurts that Legalese's satirical targets—lawyers and the tabloid media—are the comedic equivalent of the broad side of a barn. It scores some easy points, but the film never really loses focus until it starts wearing its heart on its sleeve and turns into a glorified episode of L.A. Law. While Legalese is diverting and agreeable, it's never the vicious, devastating satire it could have, and should have, been.

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