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The Beautiful Girls press kit repeatedly uses the phrase “character-driven” to describe the film. (This meaningless Hollywood designation implies that there’s such a thing as drama that isn’t character-driven; the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of the term is “guitar-based.”) At any rate, the phrase will never, ever, be applied to The Juror. If this film were character-driven, it would wreck before it left the driveway.
Brian Gibson’s one-dimensional suspense thriller is a remarkable tour de force of bad acting. Alec Baldwin plays an obsessive Mafia operative who is charged with intimidating juror Demi Moore until she agrees to render a “not guilty” verdict at the trial of his boss. The book-based script is by Ted Tally, who also adapted The Silence of the Lambs for the screen, and it’s clear that the film aspires to the same sort of psychological shading. Unfortunately, Anthony Hopkins is nowhere in sight. Context alone makes it possible to infer that Baldwin’s character is supposed to be menacing and Moore’s spirited.
Annie Laird (Moore) is a bohemian sculptor who lives with her teenage son in an ultracool remodeled barn. After she is selected for jury duty in the case of a notorious mob boss, a mysterious stranger (Baldwin) buys several pieces of her work. In a move calculated to let the prop department off the hook, Annie does tactile sculpturebig boxes with holes in the bottom that people reach into, feeling what’s inside. They also allow her to dole out idiotic double-entendres like, “Would you like to feel another one?” Annie quickly discovers that the buyer is no art patron: Known as “the Teacher,” he’s a hit man who’s been using the latest in electronic surveillance equipment to monitor her every move. The Teacher exacts Annie’s cooperation by threatening to kill her son. (Interestingly, the film’s press kit implies that Annie is susceptible to this threat because she’s a single mother who isn’t dating, and must therefore have an undue attachment to her boy. Any other mother, of course, would respond with a sassy, “Go aheadmake my day.”)
Those parts of The Juror that aren’t wildly implausible are often just plain dumb. In the scene that marks the climax of the Teacher’s intimidation scheme, for instance, he takes Annie in a speeding car to the stretch of road along which her son bicycles home from school. As the boy looms into view, the Teacher presses the accelerator to the floor, insisting that she follow his orders. Obviously, neither Annie nor her tormentor is very bright: At this point, the jury has not yet deliberated, and running down her son would be roughly equivalent to killing a hostage before demanding the ransom money. This isn’t the only evidence of mental incapacity on the part of the film’s main characters. The Teacher can’t remember to keep the door to his high-tech surveillance headquarters locked, while Annie is so dimwitted she buys airline tickets in her real name while on the run from the mob. (The Juror makes no allowances for audience savvy, either. In one scene, the Teacher has sex with a woman and then locks her in a stranglehold and makes her swallow pillswe later learn that she “killed herself.” In a time when detective fiction tops the best-seller lists, everybody and their grandmother knows that there’d be more than enough forensic evidence to rule out suicide.)
The audience may snicker at such gaffes, but it’s the filmmakers who have the last laugh. The only reason to see either of these actors in any movie at all is in the hopes that they’ll take their clothes off, and both remain fully garbed throughout.CP