***/**** Image A Sound B+
starring Michael Richards, Jeff Daniels, Charlize Theron, Jessica Steen
screenplay by Sara Bernstein & Gregory Bernstein
directed by Jonathan Lynn
by Jarrod Chambers Trial and Error starts off with some pretty stock situations. Charlie Tuttle (Jeff Daniels) is a lawyer, a Yale man who has just made partner at the firm and is engaged to the boss's daughter. He is absurdly uptight, his fiancée (Alexandra Wentworth) is a ridiculously controlling snob, his boss is a hard-nosed hard-case. In other words, everyone (to begin with) is a cartoon. Charlie's best friend since grade school, Richard Rietti (Michael Richards, a.k.a Kramer from "Seinfeld"), is a free-living actor with a wardrobe that relies heavily on flowered prints. Richard is Charlie's best man, despite pressure from his fiancée and her father to choose someone more, ahem, respectable.
More standard stuff follows. Charlie is sent to defend the boss's brother-in-law Benny Gibbs (the unmistakeable Rip Torn) on mail-fraud charges in Paradise Bluff, Nevada, i.e., the middle of nowhere. Richard follows him out there and throws him a bachelor party that ends in a bar fight, which results in overmedication, which leads, inevitably, to Charlie sprawled on the bathroom floor and unable to appear in court. All he is supposed to do is ask for a continuance until another trial lawyer can be sent out, so Richard dons Charlie's suit and tie (it fits perfectly, à la Hollywood) and heads into court as Charlie--a "walk-on," as he puts it. Is the continuance granted? Ha.
The trial proceeds, of course, and Richard (as Charlie) mounts an outrageous insanity defense which sends the prosecutor (Jessica Steen) and the judge (Austin Pendleton) into fits, while the real Charlie is banned from the courtroom and ends up under the wing of a beautiful grad student-cum-waitress (Charlize Theron, one of the most underrated actresses around). After a while, the film stops trying to be a slapstick laugh riot (Michael Richards even stops tripping over things!) and starts giving us some character. I became so interested in the transformations that Richard and Charlie were undergoing that I hoped they would just chuck the trial and concentrate on their development. However, Richard's closing argument is worth the wait, a nice piece, and proves to me that there is more to Michael Richards than Krameresque pratfalls.
What really takes this film a notch above the usual bigscreen sitcom is Gabriel Beristain's cinematography. I found myself wishing I was there with these characters in this little town perched on the fine line between towering mountains and vast plains. Shots of wild horses at full gallop, a motorcycle and its anonymous rider raising dust as it travels from horizon to horizon, a plumbing and car part graveyard in the middle of the desert, all lend an air of mystery and grandeur that make this movie more than the sum of its standard Hollywood parts. It wasn't until the movie was over that I realized that I was watching a fairy tale, a story of two boys who visit a magical land far from home and return transformed. Taken on that level, Trial and Error is a very sweet film with some truly nice moments, particularly from Charlize Theron; if there is any justice in Hollywood, this actress has a bright, bright future ahead of her.
by Bill Chambers Those Navadan landscapes are done justice by DVD, especially in the genuinely letterboxed (as opposed to matted) transfer. (A full-frame option is included as well on the same side of the dual-layer platter.) Presented in the weird, director-specified aspect ratio of 2.0:1, Trial and Error's image is impeccable, save some artificial edge enhancement. Flesh tones are magnificent (and not just those of Ms. Theron!) and contrast is spot on--in other words, the typical bang-up job from New Line Home Video. (I've almost tired of singing their praises!) Comments relating to picture quality extend to the full-frame presentation, though again, an AB comparison revealed a significant increase in side info on the widescreen version.
The DD 5.1 audio is nothing spectacular, with limited surround presence, although the music occasionally takes advantage of all six speakers at once. There's little, if any, reason to run up your hydro bill by turning on the subwoofer--this is a dialogue-driven film, and as such this mix gets the job done, with voices evenly recorded. A Dolby Surround track is also a listening option. The Trial and Error disc also features a trailer (anamorphic, and in 5.1) and cast/crew bios.
99 minutes; PG-13; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced), 1.33:1; English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround; CC; English subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; New Line