Trial And Error

on May 30, 1997 by Jean Oppenheimer
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   "Lame" is perhaps the kindest adjective one can ascribe to "Trial and Error," director Jonathan Lynn's humorless new comedy. Michael Richards (best known for his turns as Kramer on TV's "Seinfeld") stars as Richard, a well-intentioned, unemployed actor who, exhibiting many Kramer-esque mannerisms, throws an out-of-town bachelor party for his best friend Charlie ("Dumb & Dumber's" Jeff Daniels), a smart, ambitious lawyer who's about to marry the boss' daughter. When Charlie's resulting hangover precludes his appearance in court the next morning, Richard assumes his identity and attempts to defend his smarmy con artist client (Rip Torn, who excels at smarmy con artists).
   The chaos and confusion that ensue leads to a transformation of both lead characters: Richard discovers a sense of self, and Charlie realizes that his goals are cockeyed and that he doesn't love his materialistic fiancee. Instead, he loves Billie ("2 Days in the Valley's" Charlize Theron), a waitress at the hotel where he's staying.
   Richards proves irritating for most of the film but ultimately reveals some humanity beneath his character. Daniels is unwatchable. It's difficult to believe that this is the same actor who starred in "Something Wild" and "The Purple Rose of Cairo." Theron gives the film what minimal appeal it has; appearing in only her second film, she exudes a sweetness, sexiness and naturalness that easily steals the picture. Jessica Steen, playing a prosecuting attorney who catches Richard's eye, also manages to do a credible job under trying circumstances. Sadly, the same can't be said for director Lynn ("My Cousin Vinny," "Sgt. Bilko"), who seems to have misplaced whatever feel for comedy he might once have possessed.    Starring Michael Richards, Jeff Daniels and Charlize Theron. Directed by Jonathan Lynn. Written by Sara Bernstein and Greg Bernstein. Produced by Gary Ross and Jonathan Lynn. A New Line release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content. Running time: 97 min
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