As far as courtroom dramas are concerned, you’d be hard-pressed to find something as generic as The Lincoln Lawyer. Forget about the excitement brewing because Matthew McConaughey (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) is actually starring in a film that doesn’t require him to remove his shirt or offer up his rugged good looks for an insulting rom com role opposite Kate Hudson or Sarah Jessica Parker — as much as everyone would like it to be, this is not a sequel to 1996’s A Time to Kill. Instead, Lawyer is an overrated, underwritten crime schlock that plays like an irritating Dick Wolf-produced legal TV show. Call it Law & Order: Luxury Sedan.
That title might even be a stretch, since the titular vehicle doesn’t make much of an impact in the film besides serving as a shiny prop for the laid-back soundtrack featuring blues, R&B, and old-school hip-hop from artists including Bobby “Blue” Bland, Erick Sermon, and Marlena Shaw. As a suave, street-smart criminal defense attorney practicing in Beverly Hills, Mickey Haller (McConaughey) is chauffeured around town in style inside his vintage Lincoln Town Car.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by crime-fiction writer Michael Connelly (this is the first of four books in the Haller series), Lawyer struggles to find its footing within a cliché storyline reworked by screenwriter John Romano (Nights in Rodanthe) and helmed by novice director Brad Furman, whose only other film is the straight-to-DVD armored-truck thriller The Take.
In Lawyer, Mickey lands the case of his career when he is hired to defend Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a spoiled, rich socialite charged with the brutal assault of a prostitute who propositions him at a nightclub. While Louis maintains his innocence (he cries “Set up!” on more than one occasion), Mickey and his investigator friend Frank Levin (William H. Macy) figure out a way to get their client off the hook even after indispensable evidence seems to mount against them.
From here, Lawyer becomes part morality thriller, part courtroom drama with Mickey caught in the middle wondering if he’s fighting for a scumbag’s exoneration. Despite McConaughey’s satisfying performance, none of it is very original. The pool of shallow characters (Marisa Tomei as the ex-wife prosecutor; John Leguizamo as a shady bail bondsman; Michael Peña as an ex-client who is now in San Quentin) don’t help us sympathize with our conflicted lawyer, whose character is never fully explored past his slicked-back hair, dog-tired eyes, and vulnerability to the bottle.
Dir. Brad Furman; writ. John Romano; feat. Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Michael Peña (R)