Matthew McConaughey keeps his shirt on in “The Lincoln Lawyer,” no small achievement for an actor who’s spent more time bare-chested on screen than some porn stars.
He’s usually dressed in a sharply tailored suit for his role as Mick Haller, a slick Los Angeles defense attorney who works out of the backseat of a chauffeured Lincoln Town Car with the vanity plate “NTGUILTY.”
Haller, who specializes in plea bargains for petty criminals, steps up in class when he’s hired to defend Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a rich playboy charged with attempted rape and murder. Haller is looking for a quick, easy payday, but the case gets complicated and he’s forced to make some sticky decisions.
The film, based on a novel by Michael Connelly, is a glib thriller that’s enjoyable as long as you don’t require logic or realism.
Even if you buy the idea that Haller’s car doubles as his office and that he’s the top choice of a wealthy client facing a long prison sentence, you may have a hard time buying all the bizarre twists delivered by director Brad Furman and screenwriter John Romano.
Haller, played by McConaughey with oily charm, is an ethically flexible lawyer who takes cash-stuffed envelopes from a biker gang, bribes a bailiff to move up his case and hires thugs to beat up his own client. He does have a moral code, though, which he backs up with actions more associated with Clint Eastwood than Clarence Darrow.
The supporting cast includes sexy Marisa Tomei as Haller’s ex-wife, William H. Macy as a long-haired private investigator and John Leguizamo as the bail bondsman who hooks Haller up with the preppy defendant.
“The Lincoln Lawyer,” from Lions Gate, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who cleverly spoofed the buddy-cop and zombie genres in “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead,” aren’t so sharp with their alien-movie satire “Paul.”
Voiced by Seth Rogen, Paul is the CGI space creature picked up by two British comic-book geeks (Pegg and Frost) in the Nevada desert after escaping from the military base where he was held captive for 60 years.
The comic premise -- that Paul now curses, smokes and jokes like a human -- has some initial shock value. Yet it quickly loses steam and is replaced by punning references to “Close Encounters,” “E.T.” and even “Lorenzo’s Oil,” which as far as I can recall had nothing to do with Martians.
The two British tourists, the bug-eyed, flat-nosed alien (who looks like a composite made by UFO buffs) and a young woman they’ve taken hostage (Kristen Wiig) are chased by the girl’s God-fearing father and a federal posse led by a dogged special agent (Jason Bateman). Sigourney Weaver, Blythe Danner and Jane Lynch have memorable cameos.
The film, directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad”) from a script by Pegg and Frost, ends with a spaceship taking off. By then, it’s too late for liftoff.
“Paul,” from Universal Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **
Nobody plays Everyman better than Paul Giamatti, the pudgy, balding star of “Sideways” and “American Splendor.” His latest version is Mike Flaherty, a struggling lawyer, part-time wrestling coach and suburban father who desperately wants to be a winner at something.
Flaherty, the flawed protagonist in Tom McCarthy’s eccentric drama “Win Win,” gets his chance when the grandson of an elderly client (Burt Young) that he snookered into a nursing home shows up out of the blue and turns out to be a wrestling phenom.
Kyle (Alex Shaffer), a bleach-blond runaway with a deadpan expression, gives an immediate lift to the sad-sack high-school team ineptly coached by Flaherty and his pal Stephen (Jeffrey Tambor). As the teen rockets toward a state championship, Flaherty is forced to deal with the corrupt behavior that brought Kyle into his life.
“Win Win” is slow and subtle. But writer/director McCarthy, whose first two films were the critically acclaimed “The Station Agent” and “The Visitor,” makes the wait worthwhile.
“Win Win,” from Fox Searchlight Pictures, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)