The Gingerbread Man

Robert Altman dishing out John Grisham's best-selling legal formula – say it isn't so. It isn't. This early Grisham story was never published, and Altman, as befits the maverick behind M*A*S*H and The Player, does things his way. In Grisham, what you see is what you get. In Altman, it's what you don't see that jumps up and bites you.

Kenneth Branagh, doing a Southern accent that is slyly Clinton-esque, stars as Rick Magruder, a divorced father and attorney in Savannah, Ga. Flush with victory – he defended a cop killer – Rick tries to bed his busy associate (Daryl Hannah). Failing that, he picks up a leggy waitress, Mallory (Embeth Dav-idtz). It's Mallory's dad (Robert Du-vall), a religious nut, who kicks the plot into kidnapping and murder. Even Rick's boozy detective pal (a superb Robert Downey Jr.) can't save him.

Altman captures the hothouse exotica of Savannah and uses a hurricane to give the story the momentum of a gathering storm. The effect is hypnotic. No fair giving away the surprises, except to say that a Grisham thriller has rarely been this sexy or this much fun.

From The Archives Issue 780: February 19, 1998