Playing Father and Daughter lawyers on different sides of a hot-potato case, Gene Hackman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio give passionate, riveting performances that almost make you forget you’re watching a glorified soap opera. Hackman is Jedediah Tucker Ward, a civil-liberties attorney who takes a case against an auto company that may have knowingly produced unsafe cars. Mastrantonio is Maggie Ward, a legal eagle on the partnership express at an ultratony San Francisco law firm; she’s defending the auto-company fat cats against her bullying, disapproving dad.
Samantha Shad, who conceived the story while studying law in 1970, wrote the screenplay with Carolyn Shelby and Christopher Ames, a married couple who have collaborated on such television shows as Growing Pains and Once a Hero. Shelby and Ames may have moved on to features, but their TV roots still show; everything is conveniently clear-cut. Dad is the Sixties idealist; daughter the Nineties pragmatist. He cheats on his faithful wife (Joanna Merlin); she sleeps with her sleaze-bag boss (Colin Friels). Ultimately he learns from her, and she from him, before justice triumphs in the final reel. Director Michael Apted (Gorillas in the Mist) knows there are no surprises in this cinematic stacked deck, so he wisely leaves the job of resuscitating Class Action to Hackman and Mastrantonio. They’re much better than the movie deserves. Somebody ought to sue.