Runaway Jury
starring John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Rachel Weisz and Dustin Hoffman
3 stars

review by Stephen Notley

Well, that wasn't too bad. As a quasi-serious drama/caper movie with a fat pedigree of stars and based on a John Grisham novel, Runaway Jury presents a reasonably entertaining illusion of something important being talked about though nothing terribly is.

The basic idea is that some cases --big cases against huge evil companies that sell tobacco or guns, say-- are, as the tagline says, "too important to be trusted to juries." In cases like these, the legal arguments are irrelevant; instead, it's all about "jury consultants" led by Gene Hackman gaming the juries, gathering surveillance on them, influencing them and so on. The Grishamite twist is to imagine what happens if some canny fellow --John Cusack, say-- were to get himself onto the jury and start gaming the gamers, holding them to ransom? So basically Runaway Jury is a caper movie with a thin thin very thin overlayment of social "relevance". 

As entertainment, it entertains. Though it is possible to put stars like Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, John Cusack and Rachel Weisz all in a movie and have them suck, here it doesn't happen. Each star gets to do what he or she is good at. For Cusack, he gets to be smart and shyly likeable, subtly working on the other members of the jury, being everybody's friend, getting the judge to spot them lunch at a sweet New Orleans restaurant. He's always fun to watch. Hackman, meanwhile, gets to be the big man, holding all the cards, deploying his forces, sneering at the idea of justice or legality, basically, a Gene Hackman bad guy. Then we've got Rachel Weisz, who often seems put in the position of providing the only "pretty girl" illumination for a movie full of boys, and every time she seems to pull it off. Plus she gets to kick the crap out of one of Hackman's thugs. Not bad at all.

Dustin Hoffman, as the lawyer for the woman launching the case, gets the thankless task of orating the "serious" stuff; that is, he gets all the boring "principled" things to say in a movie that doesn't really care about all that poo. I'd heard going in that the bad guy was going to be big tobacco; instead, it's gunmakers. Same difference; you don't have to do any work to make these guys evil. Who's gonna hope the gun company wins? Nobody. So there's no point in talking about it, right? There's no reason to hear even one legitimate argument from the gunmaker's side, is there? Of course not. We don't want to hear about guns in America; if we did we'd be watching Bowling for Columbine.

It's kind of typical for these Grisham thrillers. They often seem to brush up against some tantalizing facet of society and then blunder past and totally miss what's interesting. But fair enough, they don't really pretend otherwise. They're potboilers, and Runaway Jury keeps things bubbling on nothing more complicated than a little applied star power. If you've already seen Kill Bill, Intolerable Cruelty and School of Rock and you still had had HAD to see some other newish movie this weekend you might give it a shot.