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Trial and Error

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Trial and Error (1997)

Jeff Daniels, Michael Richards, Jessica Steen, Austin Pendleton, Charlize Theron, Rip Torn, Alexandra Wentworth
Jonathan Lynn
New Line Cinema
Sara Bernstein, Gregory Bernstein
Current Status:
In Season

We gave it a B+

In the new comedy Trial and Error, director Jonathan Lynn takes the same formula that made his 1992 farce My Cousin Vinny an Oscar-winning hit — a grossly underqualified ”attorney” defends a hopeless client in a Podunk town — and recycles it for a new star: Seinfeld‘s Michael Richards. And damned if it doesn’t work again. In this case, a jobless actor (Richards) gets his L.A. lawyer best friend (Jeff Daniels) so blotto at a bachelor party that he can’t make his appearance in a Nevada courtroom. So Richards poses as Daniels — but when the judge (the always-amusing Austin Pendleton, another My Cousin Vinny vet) refuses his request for a continuance, Richards must continue playing the part of a lawyer.

Richards’ role isn’t far removed from Kramer (he’s prone to pratfalls and wears garish attire), yet he manages to segue seamlessly from TV sidekick to big-screen comedic lead. He even pulls off a romantic subplot with an opposing counsel (Jessica Steen). And Daniels makes for a fine straight man.

The film’s able supporting cast includes The Larry Sanders Show‘s Rip Torn as the con-man defendant (he’s charged with defrauding suckers by selling pennies, which he calls ”commemorative Abe Lincoln engravings,” for $17.99, plus shipping and handling). And the delectable Charlize Theron, from 2 Days in the Valley and That Thing You Do!, appears as the saucy barmaid who becomes Daniels’ love interest. With a clever script (cowritten by former attorney Gregory Bernstein) that incorporates sly references to Gerry Spence’s leather-fringe jackets and Dan White’s Twinkies defense, Trial and Error delivers just as many laughs as this year’s other liar-lawyer comedy. B+