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TRIAL BY JURY

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 26, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Like Paramount, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has been digging into its archives to release Blu-ray upgrades with, as far as I can tell, no concern about the quality of the chosen films. All the big hits have been on Blu-ray for a long time, of course, so perhaps this one is just another stab in the dark for fans of lesser pictures. My review was published in the Deseret News on Sept. 11, 1994. (And since their marriage is mentioned here, it’s worth noting that Joanne Whalley and Val Kilmer divorced the year this film was released and she went back to using her maiden name; 'Trial By Jury' is her last credit as 'Kilmer.')

So, who the heck is Joanne Whalley-Kilmer?

The doe-eyed actress is the wife of actor Val Kilmer, the actor who scored as Doc Holliday in "Tombstone" last year and who has replaced Michael Keaton in "Batman Forever." (Whalley-Kilmer and her husband co-starred in "Willow" and "Kill Me Again," both on video.) She also has a supporting role in the current "A Good Man in Africa" (reviewed in Friday's Deseret News). And she has the title role in the upcoming CBS miniseries "Scarlett," the sequel to "Gone With the Wind."

If that's not enough, she is the star of the new courtroom thriller "Trial by Jury," playing Valerie, a naive single mother who finds herself terrorized while sitting as a juror in a sensational New York mob trial.

Though she could easily ask to be dismissed because she runs her own small business, Valerie feels it is her civic duty to serve on the jury. Unfortunately, when she vocalizes that sense of duty in the courtroom, it brings her to the attention of Pirone (Armand Assante), the mobster on trial.

     

Gabriel Byrne, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, 'Trial By Jury' (1994)

The state has only circumstantial evidence and Pirone has taken care of the prime witness against him. But all the same, Pirone orders the corrupt ex-cop (William Hurt) on his payroll to threaten Valerie: She must either attempt to sway the jury to acquit Pirone or, at the least, cause the trial to be abandoned with a hung jury. Otherwise, Pirone will kill her young son.

Terrified, Valerie moves the boy to upstate New York to stay with her father (Stuart Whitman in a thankless cameo) — but, of course, Pirone's men find the lad anyway.

Then, just to drive the point home, Pirone himself pays Valerie a visit in her apartment, even as two cops are parked outside to protect her.

So, Valerie reluctantly agrees to play ball, much to the chagrin of the volatile district attorney (Gabriel Byrne). Eventually, he does suspect jury tampering — but by then, it's too late.

The film's central point, of course, is that the experience toughens Valerie. As she says late in the film, "I've changed. I'm not the same person I was." And she proves it by plotting her own revenge on Pirone.

     

Whalley-Kilmer isn't bad, though writer-director Heywood Gould ("One Good Cop") tends to rely a bit too much on her inexpressive face, as her big eyes stare blankly.

The supporting cast is loaded with familiar faces — Kathleen Quinlan as a hooker/hitwoman, Margaret Whitton as a flamboyant juror, Ed Lauter as a goofy prosecutor, Joe Santos as a mob kingpin, etc.

There are a couple of well-staged action scenes and some droll humor (the judge has stomach trouble, and both sides of the case feel a mostly female jury will be to their benefit).

But most of the movie is slow and talky, allowing the audience to dwell far too long on the many implausible aspects and the lack of character development.

"Trial by Jury" is rated R for violence, some gory photographs, profanity and some partial nudity.