True Crime
**.5 GM
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington, Diane Venora, Denis Leary, James Woods, Lisa Gay Hamilton


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Who would have thought that, upon putting James Woods, Denis Leary and Clint Eastwood in the same room, it would be Leary who wound up on the short end of the dialog stick? True, he's got an against-type character - the earnest, non-smoking semi-pushover newspaper editor to Clint's hard-edged, scumbag reporter and Woods' rapid-fire, scruple-impaired editor-in-chief - but I was honestly surprised that Eastwood was able to keep up with Woods while trading uncouth barbs.

"True Crime" is basically the story of Steve "Ev" Everett (Eastwood), who's a down-on-his-luck New York reporter that got drummed out to California after busting the mayor and sleeping with his boss' daughter. Since then, he started a crusade to free a rapist named Mike Vargas, only to have him confess when threatened with a DNA test - thus destroying his reputation. He's now in Oakland with his distrusting wife (Diane Venora) and child, inexplicably nailing any woman he can get his hands on (if Clint wasn't Clint, there's no way these women would even CONSIDER him), and trying to stay on the wagon.

Through dumb luck, he stumbles onto the Frank Beechum (Isaiah Washington) case - a man on death row for a killing he didn't commit - and he has to fight against time, cynical bosses Alan (Woods) and Bob (Leary), his family problems and public hatred for Beechum in order to get to the truth. This is supposed to be the main, compelling plot, and it does have some strong acting from Washington and Lisa Gay Hamilton, who plays his wife, but... come on. Does anyone really doubt that Clint will come through at the last minute to save the day? There's not really any question that the ending is going to please all the test audiences.

The fun is in watching him pull it off. He's been boffing Bob's wife, so Bob has it in for him, the Vargas case has put Alan against him, and most people have no interest in clearing Beechum because the victim was a young, pregnant white woman. It's great to watch Clint scrambling around trying to put the pieces together against all odds, even if it's hard to swallow him as a guy who would be attracting 23-year-olds. Luckily, the 23-year-old in question is actually smart enough NOT to get involved with him (although the reason is 'he's married' and not that 'he could be my friggin' grandfather').

The best parts of the film are the James Woods scenes. I love watching this guy, even in stuff like John Carpenter's Vampires, so when he's in a movie with a quality script, it's a blast. I didn't get the full-blown Woods-Leary rant match I was hoping for, but the dialog between the three of them was funny, fast and furious, making this film very much worth seeing.

Besides, how can you doubt a film whose credits include a character called "Pussy Man?" It's just not done.

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