Here's the kind of movie "True Crime" is: Steve Everett (Clint Eastwood), a drunken stumblebum of a reporter who's worn away the patience of every editor he's ever worked for, is hurriedly assigned a death-row interview, and within a few seconds, he's figured out they're gonna fry the wrong guy.
Can he prove this guy's innocent, take his young daughter to the zoo and keep from being beaten senseless by the news editor whose wife he's sleeping with, all within 12 hours?
"True Crime" aspires to be "Dead Man Walking" as experienced by a newspaper reporter instead of a nun. But instead, it's a hopelessly cliched newspaper yarn -- I kept waiting for someone to scream into the phone, "Baby, get me re-write!" -- grafted onto a cautionary tale of how the death penalty can leave an innocent person just as dead as a guilty one.
As Everett, Eastwood certainly looks the part of a final-stages case of self-destruction. He knows he's mucked up his life all by himself. But Clint's getting a little too old to play a womanizer, and his big speeches, where he tries to explain how hard he's working at being good, fall flat; Eastwood's always been best when he's said the least. The best thing about the newsroom half of "True Crime" is James Woods, typically magnetic as the paper's executive editor.
The film does better when it concentrates on the condemned man, Frank Beacham (a restrained Isaiah Washington). Death row has rarely looked more dehumanizing, and the scenes between Beacham and his wife (the marvelous Lisa Gay Hamilton) attain a real dignity.
It's a level the film rarely achieves otherwise. The real klunker is a climactic car chase where Eastwood tries to make like Bruce Willis with the wisecracks. Like too much of this film, the sequence seems to exist only because it's worked elsewhere.
Starring Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington and James Woods
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Rated R (Language, violence)
Running time: 127 minutes
Sun score: * *
Pub Date: 3/19/99