30 January 2007 | Ankhoryt
Uneven writing accompanied by uneven performances
The earliest scenes are the most awkward scenes, particularly those in which Our Hero, Detective Mitchell (Scott Bakula) is blasted by other cops for being insufficiently bloodthirsty as far as the death penalty goes. Even the masterful Miguel Ferrer has a hard time seeming credible with the lines he's given. Mitchell's refusal to do a public service announcement pushing capital punishment offends the police department's leadership, and, if we are to believe the script, the police department's grunts as well. All manner of aspersions are cast on Detective Mitchell's character, on up to suggestions that he is in the pay of the Mob to try to keep mafiosi off Death Row.
However overdone in spots, the film is interesting for the chance to see many men who would later go on to be major character actors in the crime-drama field:---Robert Clohessy of "Oz" and the "Law & Order" franchises;---Luis Guzmán of "Oz," "NYPD Blue," and dozens of crime films;---Tony Sirico, who would become Pauly Walnuts on "The Sopranos"---Joe Viterelli, a constant presence in second-tier Mafia shows;---and J.T. Walsh, who, like Viterelli, is no longer with us.
Bakula overacts in the first half of the film, but that might be problem of direction. His part is well-written, in contrast to the ham-handed lines given his opponents. Another complaint about the writing: a priest tells Mitchell, "Capital punishment is not inconsistent with Church doctrine." Yes, it is, and even back in 1992, the script's fact-checkers should not have missed this. Opposition to capital punishment is in the top three of the most pressing political priorities of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, and Pope John Paul II himself frequently made calls to governors to attempt to stop executions. This was a blunder that discredits the "true story" credentials of this tale. (I never did figure out which "true story" this film is supposed to represent, after an hour mining Google for every combo of terms I could think of.)
For all that the movie improved significantly from the hokey opening scenes to the competent end, it couldn't hold my interest. The first impression of polemical tripe was too strong. For those who are interested in either the issue or the lead actor, Bakula returns to the issue of the death penalty in the 2000 film, "In the Name of the People," in which he plays a man on death row.