Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) is a promising lawyer in Florida who can boast of his young career that he has never lost a case, and he's not about to do so now. One problem has arisen as the jury listens to the testimony of one of the alleged victims of his client, however, and that is that as the teenage girl relates the accusation of his sexual abuse, Kevin notices the client is actually getting off on it, and realises the man he is defending is guilty as hell. Taking a break in the men's room a reporter approaches Kevin and says it looks as if he will have his first loss - but will he?
Is Kev in fact a lawyer with a conscience? Or will he sacrifice his morals for the good of advancing his career? And is there, perhaps, some agent of the netherworld seeing how far he can coax him into ruthlessness and evildoing? If you hadn't worked that out you obviously were not paying attention, or had not seen the trailer, for The Devil's Advocate for a start had that groaningly literal title, and the fact that none other than Al Pacino was playing Keanu's wicked mentor who was the Devil himself was well publicised. Which would have been all very well if the Kevin character had been aware of this a lot sooner.
Yet as it was this was one of those horrors or thrillers where it took the lead an achingly long time to work out what we in the audience were all too conscious of even before the film had begun. Obviously in the real world if you suspect your boss is actually Satan incarnate then your mental health would be called into question, or at least your sense of proportion, but that didn't really wash with a fiction like this, so that Kevin doesn't seem quite so intelligent as he was supposed to be when the glaringly blatant was staring him right in his face. No matter that his wife Mary Ann (a game Charlize Theron) does actually realise this, nothing will get through to our hero until right at the end.
Where we find out why Pacino signed on for this: that's right, a great big speech, sort of like the way he ended his other legal profession-based movie, And Justice for All, only not quite as entertaining. Before that director Taylor Hackford tried to keep it subtle for those few in the audience who remained unaware of the not so well concealed twist, but even then was not above including the odd shot of a character's face turning CGI demonic, mostly when Mary Ann is watching. Having accepted Pacino's law firm invitation to come to New York City and continue his run of success there - he managed to win the pervert's case back in Florida - Kevin is offered some tricky assignments, but nothing he cannot handle.
Except when he has to tackle the murder trial of one of Pacino's associates (Craig T. Nelson), he begins to have misgivings about whether he is on the right side or not, and although you would have thought being allied to Beelzebub in this life would mean a fairly easy ride through any situations that came your way, especially as God does not seem to be troubling anyone apart from his devout mother (Judith Ivey) - and even she has a secret history. Kev does suffer a lot, and more and more as the story proceeds, but the trouble is, with everything so leaden and spelled out far ahead the best bet for entertainment is Pacino, who not only is called John Milton but even goes as far as sticking out his tongue like a snake for that Garden of Eden vibe, all highly amusing but there's not enough, and then for the finale there's way too much. The dilemma of morality at the heart of it carries barely any importance, too, when it's simply leading to a lame punchline. Music by James Newton Howard.