Based on the 1956 film noir of the same name directed by Fritz Lang, Peter Hyams’ Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
tells the story of an indefatigable, wildcard journalist’s
out-of-the-box plan to expose a corrupt district attorney, and how his
scheme takes an unexpected turn. The problem is that the movie is defined by stock characters, and totally caught up in pedestrian notions of thrills rather than the sort of intellectual chess moves that would make this sort of story robust and satisfying.
Relatively new to the area, ambitious television news reporter C.J. Nicholas (Jesse Metcalfe, who could surely star in a hypothetical Matt Leinart biopic if you just surrounded him with a couple bikini-clad girls) begins investigating hotshot district attorney Mark Hunter (Michael Douglas), convinced that his string of murder case victories can’t be a coincidence, or the result of, you know, hard work and guilt defendants. Hunter seems professionally pointed toward politics, in the form of an upcoming gubernatorial election, but C.J. thinks he’s tampering with evidence to
secure his convictions. In an effort to bolster his suspicions, C.J. turns to assistant district attorney Ella Crystal (Amber Tamblyn), for whom he also has the hots, and somehow convinces her to slip him a copy of the interrogation tape in the latest Hunter case.
A risky game of cat-and-mouse ensues, as C.J., with the assistance of friend and colleague Cory Finley (Joel David Moore), frames himself as a murder suspect in order to try to catch Hunter and his former police partner in
the act of cooking up evidence. Ella’s own life becomes endangered, however, when she discovers incriminating proof that puts the fate of both
Nicholas’ innocence and Hunter’s reputation in her hands. In the background, cop Ben Nickerson (Orlando Jones) tries to make sense of everything.
This material seems an odd fit for writer-director Hyams (Timecop, The Relic, End of Days), almost from the start. Part of it is budgeting, to be sure, but everything in Beyond a Reasonable Doubt feels at once too slick and on-the-nose, starting with Metcalfe’s performance, which offers no subtlety or sense of lurking restraint. In lieu of honest cat-and-mouse narrative give-and-take, however, Hyams also litters his script with great wastes of time, like a protracted, stakes-free second act car chase that ends with the death of a character we knew to be doomed from roughly half an hour earlier. We also find out pretty early on that Hunter is at least a top-shelf scumbag, even if we’re not yet certain of his guilt, so the one possible “twist” that remains isn’t a particularly surprising one. It furthermore doesn’t help that the movie is a de-fanged PG-13, so all its amped personal confrontations and physical imperilment plays kind of like a polite high school play. In short, this is a yawning small screen programmer, through and through.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt comes to DVD presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track. A hilarious new trailer for Ashton Kutcher’s Spread, cut to make it look like a more conventional romantic comedy, auto-starts upon disc playback, for what it’s worth; for those who have seen the aforementioned movie, it’s good for a couple giggles. At any rate, anchoring the DVD’s bonus features is an audio commentary track with multi-hyphenate Hyams (who also serves as his own cinematographer) and
actor Metcalfe. While there are a few nice production anecdotes here — including some talk about the trims in lovemaking scenes between Metcalfe and Tamblyn — there are also far too many huge gaps in the chat, making for a sporadic, uninteresting listen. Apart from the theatrical trailer, the only other supplemental material are a pair of three-minute-plus featurettes — one a staid making-of promo puff-piece that slices and dices film clips and EPK-type interviews, the other a scantly informative look at criminal forensics, featuring retied investigator Richard Pfaff. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C- (Movie) C- (Disc)