Mary-Louise Parker and Edward Kerr star in LEGALESE, directed by Glenn Jordan for TNT.

Legalese (1998, Glenn Jordan)

Legalese’s cast order is a tad deceptive. First, James Garner headlines it. While he does have a large role, he’s not the protagonist—and he’s not even the regular likable Garner character. Legalese plays on that assumption, however. Then there’s Gina Gershon, who has a small part (though the film opens with her). Then it’s Mary-Louise Parker, who probably should be second-billed. Fourth is finally Edward Kerr… Legalese’s lead.

The film—from back when cable was doing inventive TV movies, not TV shows—is often excellent. It’s a light black comedy with Garner as a celebrity lawyer, Kerr as his protegee and Gershon as the client. Stewart Copeland’s score alone might make the film worthwhile, but Billy Ray comes up with this fantastic relationship for Kerr and Parker.

Kerr’s good in the lead; he can do earnest quite well and he never steps on the other actors, which might be why he never made it off TV. But Legalese works because of what Parker brings to it. Director Jordan seems to understand how essential she is to the film—even her reaction expressions—so it’s inexplicable why she’s mostly silent for the finish. It sends Legalese off on a slightly sour, easily avoidable note.

Still, it’s a good film. It overcomes Kathleen Turner’s broad performance as a media harpy and the strange inclusion of Brian Doyle-Murray as Kerr’s father (slash personified conscious).

Jordan does a fine job.

It’s too bad it doesn’t live up to its potential.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Glenn Jordan; written by Billy Ray; director of photography, Tobias A. Schliessler; edited by Bill Blunden; music by Stewart Copeland; production designer, Charles Rosen; produced by Cindy Hornickel and Jordan; released by Turner Network Television.

Starring James Garner (Norman Keane), Gina Gershon (Angela Beale), Mary-Louise Parker (Rica Martin), Edward Kerr (Roy Guyton), Brian Doyle-Murray (Harley Guyton), Kathleen Turner (Brenda Whitlass), Scott Michael Campbell (Randy Mucklan) and Keene Curtis (Judge Handley).

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