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Guilty as Sin Reviews

Don Johnson and Rebecca DeMornay are interestingly cast against type as the bad guy and good woman in this otherwise uninteresting and uneven courtroom thriller. Risk-taking defense lawyer Jennifer Haines (DeMornay) is approached by smooth womanizer David Greenhill (Johnson) to take on an apparently unwinnable case against him for the murder of his wealthy wife. Greenhill is proud to have lived off women all his life, but the murder indictment has tied up his late spouse's fortune. Guaranteed payment from his new benefactress, and intruiged by the case's challenge, she accepts Greenhill as a client. But when Greenhill begins meddling in her personal life, she takes the opportunity to drop him when his benefactress, convinced by Greenhill that he is having an affair with Haines, drops him. However, the judge forces Haines to remain Greenhill's attorney. Even as Haines mounts Greenhill's defense, his harassment of her continues, and increases when Greenhill sends Haines a "message" by beating her boyfriend (Stephen Lang) badly enough to put him in the hospital. When Greenhill intimates to her that he murdered his wife and has probably murdered other women, Haines dispatches her investigator Moe (Jack Warden) to gather evidence. Also fearing for her life, she decides to frame Greenhill when the state's evidence proves weak and Greenhill is able to verify his alibi. She manufactures evidence, but Greenhill produces yet another benefactress/witness to neutralize it, leading to a hung jury. At risk to her career, she decides to turn Garson's evidence over to the authorities, but Greenhill murders Garson and destroys the evidence before Haines can act. Greenhill tries to murder Haines by throwing her off a balcony, but she pulls him down with her, killing him as his body cushions her fall enough for her to survive. GUILTY AS SIN is guilty of a ramshackle scenario that never really explores its own premise and direction that stresses effects over logic and credibility. "He has written this whole scenario," says Haines at one point of Greenhill. If only he had. If only somebody had. Unfortunately, SIN registers as yet another case of credible talent in writer Larry Cohen (writer/director of IT'S ALIVE, Q, THE STUFF, and many others) and director Sidney Lumet (FAIL-SAFE, SERPICO, DOG DAY AFTERNOON and many others) getting dumped into Disney's notorious movie talent mulcher to emerge with a film that nervously backs away from any genuinely provocative themes. That's no small order considering the premise of a defense attorney forced to confront her own atrophied conscience when confronted by a hard-core sociopath who has no conscience to begin with. But the results lack energy, focus, and logic. While Greenhill is mounted and played as a cool, calculating villain, nothing he does bears up to scrutiny. He "frames" himself for his wife's murder to bring him into contact with Haines, whose career he has followed well in advance of the murder. But why? He confesses to Haines that the problem with committing perfect murders is that he can't tell anyone, making it appear that he sees a kindred soul and potential perfect confidant in Haines, who is bound by professional ethics to hold all client communications in strict confidence. But the implications are never explored. It then emerges that Greenhill has laid a trail of evidence pointing to Haines as an accomplice in his wife's murder. Does he mean to frame her after leaving his fingerprints all over his wife's murder? The big questions generate smaller questions, and the action becomes progressively more baffling until Haines' attempts to manufacture evidence, a move that can only be described as childish. An elaborate flashback shows how Greenhill actually committed the crime to tell us what we already know--that Haines isn't fooling anybody. Tightly knit narratives have never been Cohen's strong suit, and this is his weakest yet. More important, however, his gift for casting explorations of moral bankruptcy in splashy cinematic terms is muted here, as it has been whenever he strays too far from his freeswinging B-cinema roots into the much touchier mainstream. Lumet milks Cohen's blunt, corrosive dialogue for all it's worth in the good scenes. But the bad scenes are beyond anyone's power. As far as the gimmick casting goes, Johnson is a surprisingly credible psychotic mama's boy--he would be a terrific Bruno in a remake of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. But for DeMornay, bad is better. Much better. (Adult situations, violence.)