When it comes to on-screen bang for your buck, Alec Baldwin may be the most underrated presence in movies today. He combines the demonically focused intensity of a young Kirk Douglas with the chiseled poise of Cary Grant, yet, oddly, the guy gets little respect from audiences and critics. This, I suspect, may be due in part to his marriage to Kim Basinger, with its tabloid-fodder paparazzi punch-outs. His many actor brothers — all with talent, none with his charisma — muddy the water too. But in the end, superstardom may elude Baldwin because he is, perversely, at his best in bad movies.
I don’t mean garden-variety clinkers, but the kind of so-overheated-they’re-fun melodramas you thought had been retired with Joan Crawford. Ask Baldwin to play straight heroics, as he did in the fine adaptation of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October and the cluttered The Shadow, and he’s an acceptable jut-jawed matinee idol. But ask him to portray an intellectually twisted hitman with a penchant for Taoist maxims and a romantic fixation on his victim in The Juror — and you can’t take your eyes off him.
Like Malice, The Juror is that rare movie-theater lemon that plays like good, nutty fun on video. Based on the Grisham Lite best-seller by George Dawes Green, The Juror casts Demi Moore as Annie Laird, a prototypically Hollywood single mom (no visible means of support, huge house in the country, can take weeks off to serve on a high-profile Mafia-murder trial). Since Moore is her usual glum self, it’s up to Baldwin to supply the juice as the Teacher, a hitman so full of his own bad self that even his Mob colleagues think he’s a flake.
The Teacher’s assignment is to force Annie into voting Not Guilty by threatening her young son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and acquaintances (notably Anne Heche in the classic best friend/ lunch-meat role). The courtroom scenes feel extraneous; The Juror comes alive only when the Teacher is silkily hectoring Annie over the phone or rasping out ridiculous pseudo-Zen koans like ”It’s terror that teaches me my shape.” The actor knows there’s humor to be mined here, but he doesn’t poke us in the ribs; instead, he uses his regal ferocity to bring out the Teacher’s scary-goofy qualities. The Juror, lumbering and overlong though it is, hints at why Baldwin may never become a mainstream superstar on the order of, say, Tom Cruise (or Moore, for that matter). He’s alive to the little pleasures of irony. C+