Watching this 'Jury' is a bit of a trial

April 12, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

In his new film, Pauly Shore takes the old jury-room classic "12 Angry Men" and reconfigures it as "One Stupid Guy."

The last thing that "Jury Duty" is about is any concept of duty; rather it's about self-indulgence blown out to epic proportions with the utterly incidental result of virtue triumphing.

Shore plays Tommy Collins, an infantile character who lives in a trailer with his bloated, strident mother (Shelley Winters) in a state of pathetic dependency. When the notification comes to jury duty, he tosses it out -- that is, until Mom announces that she and her fiance are getting married and taking the trailer to Vegas for an unspecified time.

Thus Tommy seizes on jury duty not as a moral responsibility but as a real estate deal: If he can get sequestered, he'll get free room and board for however long it takes. The trial he catches, alas, appears to be open-and-shut. It's a murder trial involving Carl Wayne Bishop, a sleazy drifter accused of disposing of a number of fast-food employees. Bishop has no alibi, and was caught with a great deal of incriminating evidence.

Once the jury is charged, Tommy's goal is simply to prolong the ordeal; after he manages to talk his way into better digs than the ones his fellow jurors must endure, that goal becomes paramount.

Thus "Jury Duty" is a monument to that obfuscation as Tommy tries everything possible to prevent the 11 others from reaching a verdict. It's a tribute to the power of one irresponsible person to destroy a legitimate case and twist it toward a mistrial in service to a different agenda, something of an awkward note to be sounding at this time.

This is a peculiar contrivance to build a movie around, because in a film as in life what it creates in those exposed to it is an intense discomfort and frustration. He's actually fighting the movement of the story toward resolution. Get on with it, you find yourself sighing.

Of course by the conventions of melodrama, it all turns out OK in the end. The film also eventually incorporates the palest whisper of a mystery, ending up with Shore and fellow jury-member Tia Carrere trying to figure out whodunit. This last part of the film is so feeble it feels as if it were written and directed by Carl Wayne Bishop.

As for Shore, it's clear in this film he's trying to progress from comic flake to comic actor. Following on "In The Army Now," he's once again playing an arc: In the beginning he's the white boy from another planet, a strange carrier of alien sounds and weird rhythms, as if his inner VCR is set perpetually on fast-forward.

By the end he's a conventional young man of maturity and wisdom and commitment, a proud beacon to a moral America, a role model for one and all -- and, of course, as boring as an economics class.

He's in a tricky position. He feels he's got to leave that giddy, goofy, screwball persona that made him a star, because he's getting older and he can't imitate weasels forever; but he hasn't yet found the right direction to go in. This certainly isn't it.

'Jury Duty'

Starring Pauly Shore and Tia Carrere

Directed by John Fortenberry

Released by Tri-Star

Rated PG-13 (sexual situations)


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