GUILT AS PLEASURE

Don Johnson is so good in Sidney Lumets Guilty as Sin that its impossible to see how, with the exception of a more original script, he could be any better. Its a dream part for the kind of performer whose talents for socio-psycho pathology have never been fully explored. Cutey-boy Johnsons slithering suavity has always been there. Often his work in TVs “Miami Vice” was at cross-purposes with the law-abiding intentions; draped in Nino Cerruti, sometimes fronting as a callous womanizing darksider, he became intriguing simply because he was so much more interesting and tempting as a baddie than as a ridiculously overdressed lawman. Here in Guilty, beyond mere slick, hes in a new stratosphere of urban as well as urbane glibness; hes the devil incarnate who fits right into our present amoral social climate. Because the movie droops when hes not in it, were almost impatiently waiting for the next outrage hell perform. Johnson does not let us down, even when we know whats coming, like when he teaches a snooping gumshoe (Jack Warden) a lesson on the dangers of not keeping up with technological advances in office maintenance. While others in the audience might want a scarier, more unstable villain, I think Johnsons conquest of us is that theres a safety mechanism built in his performance; were never in doubt as to his characters guilt and as a result he glides from one transgression to another with the sole intent of entertaining us. We can feel his glee, and thats a pleasure we dont often get to share in. Rebecca De Mornay really suffers from Lumets notorious “fast take” method—she cant latch on to her character as quickly as Johnson does. Playing the Glenn Close part from Jagged Edge, shes hell-bent too fast; and she seems bored by the game playing, which is a cardinal sin if youre playing a lawyer opposite charismatic Johnson, and if youre an actress having previously played a psychobitch in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (better titled Peytons Place). Shes got a tantalizing wiggle, and if theres anything else worth watching about her, its her uncanny resemblance to Hillary Clinton. Not just in hair and face, but check out that one winter coat she wears—with attached scarf. I think we saw something like that at the Clintons outdoor inaugural festivities. Johnson and De Mornay laugh too nervously at their own shitted-up lines, while were either silent or barely giggling. The humors deadish throughout, coming to life but once—when Johnsons sitting at the bar of a swanky club. Things actually dont get going until a judge puts the screws to the expensively priced De Mornay—forcing her to defend Johnson gratis when it seems he cant pay the fees—and then the action really speeds up when new evidence is presented at the trial. Its during this trial scene that Larry Cohens script reveals a masterstroke: Johnson flashes on the crime hes been accused of and we see just how cleverly the tracks have been covered. (Did O.J. get ideas?) When the camera moves in on Johnson in the courtroom, we nearly see his mind processing his possible framers. With the exception of a badly directed scene wherein he wears a white bathrobe and exhibits the script-required craziness, Johnson does not chew up the scenery, as some critics have charged; instead he diagrams his pathological swarthiness to the max. Guilty as hell, thats just the way we want him.

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