Michael Connelly is one of those crank-‘em-out suspense writing machines whose work is usually swaddled in books—hardcover and soft—with telltale embossed titles. It is product best consumed with half a brain, usually on a plane or in some other time-killing setting. Fittingly enough, the film adaptation of Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer decidedly has the feel and the breezy quality of “embossed cover” culture, cinematically speaking, and likewise is probably best consumed in the discomfort of an airplane seat, when you’re desperate for a diversion to while away hours.
There’s nothing inherently wrong about The Lincoln Lawyer, once accepted as entertainment fodder with no aspirations to the stuff of art. It keeps you engaged, with its tautly structured tale of legal intrigue, and just enough twists and dark corners along the way to keep clichés mostly at bay. Matthew McConaughey stars as the swaggering L.A. barrister Mickey Haller, a somewhat sleazy lawyer, fond of tooling around in his chauffeured Lincoln Town Car. He gets more than he bargained for when he signs on to defend an unequivocally sleazy über-rich kid (played by Ryan Phillippe) and is entrapped in a nasty scenario of dark knowledge, lawyer-client privilege, and other gears of legal chicanery and secrecy.
McConaughey, still one of the least-gifted actors currently making the big bucks in Hollywood, is slightly better than his usual phone-it-in self, partly because his drawling bad-boy–lawyer act musters up marginal charm. His game is also upped by the superior thespian presence of the weirdly magnetic William H. Macy, as his gruffly wise, long-haired investigator, and Marisa Tomei, as his ex-wife. The drama moves between the tidy quarters of a courtroom drama and some mean street action, with the lawyer’s light-and-dark private life also ladled into the mix, keeping us if not on the edge of our seats, at least awake and curious.
By movie’s end, we may feel a glow of satisfaction for our entertainment dollar investment, but it will come with a twinge of having been unduly manipulated. Vis-á-vis the “embossed culture” factor, we may also expect to hear a voice boom out, “Fasten your seat belts; we’re encountering some turbulence.”