At first it’s a kick to watch Clint Eastwood play Steve Everett, a horn-dog newsman who doesn’t let a wife (Diane Venora) and child (Francesca Eastwood, his real-life daughter) interrupt his babe chasing. Is Clint being Clinton-esque? Even if he’s not, these scenes are the liveliest part of this dog-tired movie.
The old man — fired from the New York Times, Steve has moved to California to work for the Oakland Tribune — is bedding the wife of the paper’s city editor (a snarling Denis Leary). He’s also hitting on a young reporter (Mary McCormack), who yearns to write stories that are worthwhile. “You’re twenty-three years old, you don’t know anything worthwhile,” Steve sasses. It’s when the Tribune editor (James Woods, in full pit-bull mode) orders Steve to zip up his pants and handle the final interview with convicted murderer Frank Beachum (a very fine Isaiah Washington) that True Crime takes a wrong turn into the trite.
True Crime is Eastwood’s twenty-first film as a director, but his spare, no-nonsense style can’t cover the holes in the plot. Didn’t the three screenwriters who adapted Andrew Klavan’s 1995 novel realize how cliched it is to pin suspense on a race against the clock to save the condemned man from death row? Didn’t they see The Player, in which Bruce Willis snatches Julia Roberts from the gas chamber with a laugh line (“Traffic was a bitch”) that should have made it impossible to shoot this claptrap again with a straight face? Guess not.