Trial and Error (1997)
Trial and Error (1997)

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.

Release Date: May 30th, 1997 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Jonathan Lynn Actors: Jeff Daniels, Michael Richards, Charlize Theron, Rip Torn, Jessica Steen, Austin Pendleton, Alexandra Wentworth, Jennifer Coolidge




ith just a handful of effective jokes – but mostly failed physical gags, a love story that doesn’t fit harmoniously into the comic premise, and mediocre acting all around – “Trial and Error” is a shockingly inferior follow-up to Jonathan Lynn’s similarly themed, identically set, judicial sidesplitter “My Cousin Vinny.” He stuck with the bungling lawyer schtick, with which he was clearly capable, but ran out of new ideas or competent reworkings of the same numbers. And it’s difficult not to notice just how much more hysterical the comparable courtroom romp “Liar Liar” was when it opened just a couple of months earlier.

Charles Tuttle (Jeff Daniels) heads to Nevada for the simple task of requesting a continuance for a scumbag friend (Rip Torn) of his soon-to-be father-in-law (Lawrence Pressman). Recently becoming a partner of the prestigious law firm – and set to marry his boss’ daughter (Alexandra Wentworth) – the gig should be quick and painless. But longtime friend Richard Rietti (Michael Richards) insists on throwing a bachelor party at the same time, journeying to the small town of Paradise Bluff to meet Tuttle for a wild celebration. When the duo get so drunk and rambunctious that Charles is unable to go to court the following morning, Rietti takes his place, thinking it’ll be a breeze. But when the case is set for trial without delay, Richard is shocked to discover that he’ll have to continue posing as a lawyer to avoid repercussions from the law – and to salvage the high-stakes case.

Michael Richards – in an early, theatrical starring role – shows his lack of range by essentially playing Kramer from “Seinfeld,” demonstrating the same idiosyncrasies, mannerisms, and expressions – and even the same physical features, such as hair and clothing. He’s occasionally amusing, if only for the familiarity with his clumsy character, but his very involvement makes the plot of “Trial and Error” appear as if better suited for one of Kramer’s shenanigans in his typical, one-fourth piece of that aforementioned sitcom. Jeff Daniels is equally uninspired, playing a rather bland straight man to Richards’ slapstick-heavy goofball. As these two personas remain generally unlikeable throughout – even with Tuttle’s formulaic change in his uptight outlook and a fresh romance to ponder – the winning or losing of the case doesn’t really matter. And since Rip Torn’s part is written to be completely deserving of incarceration, there’s no opportunity for the proceedings to generate an underdog victory or a worthwhile triumph (instead relying on technical blunders for cheap satisfaction). A young Charlize Theron makes an appearance as the love interest, but the script correspondingly gives her little to work with.

The courtroom calamities are supposed to be the strong points of the film, but they never manage to rise above mildly mirthful. Literally destroying the property, spouting out nonsensical objections, and utilizing an enormously unrealistic judge are just a few of the expected gimmicks that “Trial and Error” desperately uses to muster humor. Even when the odd cross-examination or harebrained schemes to coach the fake counsel result in wryness, it’s never laugh-out-loud funny. Could this really be helmed by the same director who, just five years prior, gave audiences the nearly flawless “My Cousin Vinny”? Lynn has apparently forgotten his adeptness with charm, chemistry, and sensibility in legal hilarities, which made his former work an archetype for humor in the courthouse.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10