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The Defenders: Payback Reviews

In the 1960s, "The Defenders" was a cutting-edge television series with Emmy Award caliber credits. This retro-rehash, made for Showtime, also handles controversial material, but in a less electrifying, provocative manner than the original. Distraught Michael Lane (John Larroquette) walks up to Jack Bishop (Nicholas Kilbertus), the man who served time for raping Lane's then-nine-year-old daughter Tracey, and calmly shoots him to death. Lane's vigilante justice garners the attention of lawyer Lawrence Preston (E.G. Marshall), who engages his granddaughter M.J. (Martha Plimpton) and persuades his son Don (Beau Bridges) to come out of retirement. At loggerheads over ethics, M.J. and her Uncle Don lay the legal groundwork for a client who refuses to plead insanity. While visiting the adult Tracey Lane (Rachael Leigh Cook), who is still traumatized by her experience, M.J. learns her client has a second, estranged daughter Jessie (Clea DuVall), whom Lane has ignored in his lifelong quest to avenge Tracey. Setbacks for the Preston firm include the judge's ruling out of a manslaughter defense and the insistence of Mrs. Bishop (Roma Maffia) that her late husband had been rehabilitated. During the trial, Don plays to the jury's sympathies while comparing Mrs. Bishop's burning desire for a conviction with Lane's own eye-for-an eye action. When the jurors are hopelessly deadlocked, the D.A. declines to retry for first degree murder, and Lane winds up with a 7-year plea bargain stretch. A meaningful exploration of the gray areas of the law, THE DEFENDERS: PAYBACK bogs down in a debate it fails to illuminate. The controversy over victims' rights should have been examined in a torrent of cascading emotions, not talked to death. This movie could take a tip from current legal series such as "The Practice" and "Law and Order," which explore thought-provoking issues without sacrificing the satisfactions of melodrama. The authoritative Marshall links this tepid courtroom drama to the ground-breaking TV program that inspired it. But while it's good to see him in his signature role, he's just a figurehead in a film that resembles a tabloid news segment that doesn't know when to end. (Violence, extreme profanity, adult situations, sexual situations.)