Oleaginous, headline-hogging attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere, in the part he was born to play) takes on the defense of young Aaron (Edward Norton), a sweet-tempered rube who stands accused of butchering a prominent Chicago cleric. To Vail, the fact that

most of Chicago has seen news footage of Aaron fleeing the police, drenched in the victim's blood, only makes the case more enticing. Even better, the prosecuting attorney is Vail's former lover, Janet Venable (Laura Linney), a brittle blonde with an ax to grind. Is this a recipe for courtroom

fireworks or what? The sky-high sleaze quotient -- lascivious priests, amateur porn movies, teenage hustlers and institutionalized corruption of every kind -- ought to guarantee fun for all, but heavy messages keep poking through and spoiling everything. And as for that ballyhooed twist ending,

well... it might seem clever if it didn't go on so.