Small Vices

  • 1999
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Crime, Drama

Assistant D.A. Rita (Laila Robins) persuades P.I. Spencer (Joe Mantegna) to assuage her suspicions that her department jailed the wrong man in the murder-rape of coed Melissa Henderson. Warned off the case by bigoted arresting officer Miller (Dean Mc Dermott), Spencer starts wondering if caucasian power-brokers have railroaded Ellis Alves (Wood Harris),...read more

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Reviewed by Robert Pardi
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Assistant D.A. Rita (Laila Robins) persuades P.I. Spencer (Joe Mantegna) to assuage her suspicions that her department jailed the wrong man in the murder-rape of coed Melissa Henderson. Warned off the case by bigoted arresting officer Miller (Dean Mc Dermott), Spencer starts wondering if caucasian power-brokers have railroaded Ellis Alves (Wood Harris), a perpetual criminal who happens to be black. Why should reopening this case rattle someone enough to hire a hit man to terminate Spencer? (In flashbacks, we learn how he survived an attempt on his life during a previous investigation.) What does Melissa's boyfriend, privileged college athlete Clint Stapleton (Jason Olive), have to hide? After damaging the credibility of witnesses who're related to Clint, Spencer refuses to back off. Even after being shot, he barges into high places to determine whether the rich can get away with murder. Endeavoring to succeed as both standard puzzle-solver and, that rarity, a detective character study, this made-for-cable movie, adapted by Robert Parker from his own novel, fails to score as either. Ironically, given Parker's involvement, the trail of clues isn't that complex and the key relationships aren't intrinsically compelling. In particular, newcomer Shiek Mahmud-Bey fumbles the role of Spencer's shadowy sidekick Hawk; unable to vividly suggest the gangsta sensibility, he delivers a callow characterization of a sometimes-menacing figure. You'll also be inclined to tune out the romantic badinage between Spencer and Susan (Marcia Gay Harden); their candlelight dinners interrupt the plot like too many similar tunes in an operetta. Not without his own brand of star-power, Mantegna puts a sexier spin on Parker's celebrated character than Robert Urich did, but he fails to erase fond memories of latter's he-mannish interpretation on the long-running TV series.

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  • Released: 1999
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Assistant D.A. Rita (Laila Robins) persuades P.I. Spencer (Joe Mantegna) to assuage her suspicions that her department jailed the wrong man in the murder-rape of coed Melissa Henderson. Warned off the case by bigoted arresting officer Miller (Dean Mc Dermo… (more)

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