Watching the perfectly airbrushed performance of Demi Moore in the perfectly inane legal thriller The Juror, it hit me, my Demi Moore problem: She is the most humorless movie star working today.
By this I don’t mean that she isn’t attractive or hardworking or fascinating to watch — far from it. Moore is attractive the way polished brass is attractive, she works hard the way ultraglamorous actresses who pull down $12 million a movie do, and she’s fascinating because in her very Demi-ness, she personifies hard-bitten young Hollywood stardom du jour. But if Moore is so rich, why does she never look like she’s having any fun? And if she’s not having any fun, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Consider how grimly she comports herself in this John Grisham knockoff, based on an unsubtle book by George Dawes Green. Moore plays Annie Laird, a sculptor who lives with her hip kid, Oliver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), in an arty converted barn, or maybe it’s an abandoned Planet Hollywood outlet, in a countrified corner of Westchester County, N.Y. Moore is a single mother and her only apparent source of steady income comes from typing, but still, she readily agrees to chuck weeks of work and mothering activities to sit as a juror in the murder trial of a mobster called Louie Boffano (Tony Lo Bianco). Why? ”Civic duty,” she lectures her son before dumping him, eager for civic adventure.
During the jury-selection process, meanwhile, Annie’s pearly dark eyeballs have caught the attention of the Teacher (Alec Baldwin), a kind of brilliant but psycho fix-it man employed by the Boffano family. So he fixes on her as the prime juror whose not-guilty verdict can be extorted, and who can in turn sway her peers. How the Teacher proceeds to get the goods on Annie and terrify her into compliance makes up a large chunk of the movie. The rest involves Annie’s attempts to fight back, the fierce, motherly steps she takes to protect her boy, and a big finale chase that, for some cuckoo reason, requires moving the action to Guatemala, the better, clearly, for Annie to learn about Mayan ruins.
The Juror is ludicrous and simplistic — a movie that assumes the viewer is incapable of enduring suspense without incurring grievous mental strain. It’s also a cheese-o-rama production, evidently so top-heavy with salaries going to Moore and Baldwin that no bucks were left over for attractive production values or a strong supporting cast. (Among the B players: James Gandolfini, Lindsay Crouse, and Another World alumna Anne Heche, whose most notable contribution to the story line is a lingering shot of her bare breasts.) British director Brian Gibson, who did great work with What’s Love Got to Do With It, seems hamstrung by considerations of equal-opportunity close-up time. And Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs screenwriter Ted Tally dips deep into the well of woo-woo to come up with lines like ”It’s terror that teaches me my shape.”
All this run-of-the-mill claptrap would be acceptable, though, if there were even one glint of amused recognition in Moore’s dewy visage that she knows what a baked ham of a production she’s carrying. Baldwin, rather a honey-cured ham himself, certainly knows: His Teacher is a loon, and every once in a while Baldwin’s shadowed slab of a face lets you know he knows you know too. But Moore, oh my dears, Moore projects the steely determination of a girl who, having transformed and negotiated and reassembled herself into a Star Being, is hell-bent on making sure every camera shot goes exactly her way, damn it. In The Juror, she does everything she can to extort the sympathies of the audience, and in the doing, throws the evidence. The verdict: She’s guilty of unchecked vanity.