Any run-of-the-mill episode of Law & Order would be more subtle, more sophisticated, and more compelling than the hubristically titled legal thriller John Grisham’s The Rainmaker (Paramount). And come to think of it, why stop the insanity there? It’s actually Francis Ford Coppola’s John Grisham’s The Rainmaker: In addition to directing, Coppola wrote the screenplay and executive-produced, adding such delicate directorial touches as shots of pet sharks swimming in the fish tank of an ambulance chaser. But spruce up the marquee all you want: What we still have here is the kind of heavy-handed, moralistic Southern-lawyer corn pone that, for my client dollars, makes moviegoing a trial.

This time Grisham’s simplistic theme is corporate greed. Specifically, the author boldly goes after a big, almighty dollar-worshipping insurance company that refuses to pay for specialized medical treatment of a poor young man dying of leukemia. The Goliath company’s counsel is played by Jon Voight (gleaming and well manicured); the outgunned David (and Grisham stand-in) arguing for the sick boy’s family is an idealistic recent law-school grad named Rudy Baylor, played by Courage Under Fire‘s Matt Damon with not much chance to employ his admirable talent for sensitivity.

Can you guess who will win? The Rainmaker juxtaposes its big case with the romantic drama of whether or not Rudy can help a pretty battered wife (a tremulous Claire Danes) wrest free of her murderous husband. (Can you guess if he will succeed?) And then there’s the subplot of whether or not Rudy can help a sweet elderly woman (esteemed screen vet Teresa Wright, here an old-lady cartoon) wrest free of her inheritance-grubbing son. (Can you guess if he will succeed?)

With no particular storytelling grace going for it, the movie has one strange charm: a long roster of brand-name actors who do their jobs with Murder, She Wrote-style enthusiasm. There’s Mary Kay Place as the haggard mom of Leukemia Boy; Danny DeVito (filled with welcome if under-directed energy) as Rudy’s morally elastic sidekick; Danny Glover as a judge who practically hands his court over to Rudy; Virginia Madsen in the crucial role of a claims adjuster who knows just how lousy her company is. Wow! Isn’t that Mickey Rourke looking swell as an exceptionally skanky lawyer? And Roy Scheider as the insurance company’s CEO? And Dean Stockwell as another judge? And, heck, Randy Travis as a juror?

People! Forget this not-good-enough-for-prime-time movie stuff! Law & Order wants you! C

The Rainmaker (Movie - 1997)
  • Movie
  • 135 minutes