By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
The next step in Matthew McConaughey's inevitable march to network television is The Lincoln Lawyer, a pilot disguised as a feature-length movie, with an entire season's arc crammed into two hours.
Based on a novel by Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer casts McConaughey as glib defense attorney Mick Haller, whose ready-for-prime-time idiosyncrasy is that his office is the backseat of his Lincoln Continental. He doesn't do much lawyer stuff there; just phone calls and briefs scanning needed before heading where legal things get done. But it's a catchy, alliterative title inspiring opening credits resembling CSI: Anything.
Mick has a loyal chauffeur (Laurence Mason), an eccentric investigator (William H. Macy), a smokin' secretary (Pell James) he never flirts with but she wishes, an ex-lover (Marisa Tomei) with whom he shares a daughter and she's a prosecutor. You know, for extra tension in the cuddle-up scenes.
Mick also has a briefcase full of unrelated clients — menacing bikers, a drug addict, assorted violent suspects past and present — who'll preposterously dovetail in his master plan to avoid getting snookered. We meet them all in John Romano's cumbersome script, with only as much detail as the plot requires, and that'll change if necessary. Watching this movie scramble to resolve every situation presented leads to an entire final reel of anticlimaxes, several of them real head-slappers.
It's all made necessary by a transparent central case that should be open and shut except director Brad Furman won't allow it. Mick is defending a Beverly Hills trust baby (Ryan Phillippe) accused of brutalizing a prostitute. He claims innocence, of course, but a steady trickle of improbable clues and connections make that dubious. There's a lot of grumbling about lawyer-client privilege, and just as much off-the-wall deception to make that claim moot.
This is a case crumbling when a lawyer breaks his profession's cardinal rule of not asking questions in court unless the answer is already known. Testimonies become irrelevant outbursts no fair judge would allow. You could find better legal advice from one of those toll-free referral agencies. At times, The Lincoln Lawyer is a travesty of movie justice.
But let's see the Jack Daniels glass as half full, as Mick usually does. The Lincoln Lawyer does seem like a decent idea for a TV series, with its handsome, cynically efficient hero bluffing his way through the legal system like nobody in real life could. Guest stars are obviously not a problem since Furman lured actors like Macy and Tomei into these underwritten roles, not to mention Bryan Cranston and Michael Paré as the obligatory tough detectives who don't appreciate Mick defending perps.
And it must be noted that McConaughey is fine in his first mature role in years, after too many walk-throughs as a hunky surfer dude in arrested development. He even leaves his shirt on, or at least a tee. The Lincoln Lawyer steers him back to the dramatic track everyone expected when A Time to Kill and Lone Star were released 15 years ago. Just in time for the fall TV season.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.