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Murder mystery that's woefully short on mystery
HOLLYWOOD has made some memorable legal thrillers over the past 30 years: The Whole Truth isn't one of them.
You just know it's not going to be a classic when the narrator/protagonist, Louisiana defence attorney Richard Ramsay (Keanu Reeves), says in voiceover within the opening seconds: "When the bailiff smiled at me, I knew I was (expletive)ed."
To emphasise the cliché, we are treated to the sight of a snake slithering across the road.
The Whole Truth doesn't belong in the same courtroom as, say, A Few Good Men (1992), Erin Brockovich (2000) or even My Cousin Vinny (1992). At best the film, directed by Courtney Hunt and written by Nicholas Kazan, might qualify as a second-rate John Grisham adaptation.
The plot is less than convincing and Reeves' inability to channel his inner Tom Cruise (his one-dimensional self is on full view though) underscores the serious lack of depth, intensity and character development. This is one murder mystery that's woefully short on mystery and riddled with too many inconsistencies.
Ramsay has been tasked with defending teenager Mike Lassiter (Gabriel Basso), who's accused of killing his father Boone (Jim Belushi), a successful criminal lawyer, obnoxious philanderer and one of Ramsay's closest friends.
Mike has confessed to the murder but now refuses to say a word in his own defence, giving Ramsay nothing to work with.
At the start of the trial, a succession of prosecution witnesses point the finger of blame squarely at Mike. "This is what losing looks like," says Ramsay. It also looks like an open- and-shut case.
Flashbacks reveal that Boone was hard on his son, abusive to his wife Loretta (Renee Zellwegger) and a total jerk to his neighbours. This was not a guy who was universally loved and admired.
Meanwhile, Ramsay's legal aide Janelle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is reluctant to be there at all and also sceptical about the defence strategy, which is described as "rope-a-dope", or allowing the prosecution to get its punches in without the defence throwing any back - in the early rounds anyway.
Janelle has very little solid information to work on, but her best asset is an uncanny ability to tell if witnesses are lying. Viewers will also want answers to some obvious questions: Is Mike taking the rap for his mother? How will Ramsay get off the ropes and save his client? And why is this such an uninspired movie?
When Mike insists on taking the witness stand, Ramsay is nervous because he doesn't know what his client will say.
The loose ends are tied up in the final act but in spite of a big reveal, the build-up is pretty lame and there's very little suspense involved.
It's a pity the filmmakers can't handle The Whole Truth but then again, it's really no great loss - and that's the absolute truth.