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  Guilty as Charged Short Sharp Shock
Year: 1991
Director: Sam Irvin
Stars: Rod Steiger, Lauren Hutton, Heather Graham, Lyman Ward, Isaac Hayes, Zelda Rubinstein, Irwin Keyes, Michael Beach, Mitch Pileggi, Michael Talbott, Terrance Ellis, Ricky Dean Logan, James Dybas, Shawn Thompson, Gale Mayron, Bill Randolph, Earl Boen
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: There have been reports of power surges in this area of Los Angeles and electricians have been called out to investigate, as they occur at the same time, twelve midnight, and for the same duration. What the authorities do not know is the reason for the mystery, and that is because Ben Kallin (Rod Steiger) keeps his operations undercover, and underground for that matter, for he has established a way of securing justice for those who believe murderers have gotten away far too lightly. Nothing less than a life for a life will do for Kallin and his cohorts, so to that end they have constructed an electric chair in a basement room: perfect for unofficial executions.

Guilty as Charged was given a small cinema release back in 1991 and then slipped into the oblivion of some dark recess of a video store, but for those who did actually watch it a minor fanbase was built up among the viewer whose sense of humour chimed with the movie's own. It was at times goofy, at others satirical, but most memorably the script by Charles Gale (best known for Ernest Scared Stupid, of all things) went to some very grim places, yet you could be forgiven for not noticing how pitch black the tone was growing since it was really all over the place, with a plot to match. The cast were certainly eclectic, and that contributed to the overall feeling of "what did I just watch?" once it was over.

That it ends with a cheesy wink to camera from supermodel turned actress Lauren Hutton was some indication that you were not intended to take the movie seriously, yet on the other hand there were selected points throughout which seemed to be tackling the morality of the death penalty from both sides of the argument, for and against, and lampooning each of them. The notion that mankind can judge for themselves who should be given the most extreme punishment possible was not considered lightly but did not ignore the arrogance of that, whether there was a God as ultimate judge or not - Kallin is a very religious man who makes sure his victims repent as they sit on his customised death chair (it is decorated with huge wings to make the passing more... heavenly).

But is Kallin a misguided dogooder - he wants to salve the broken hearts of the victims' loved ones as much as meting out executions - or is he a deranged vigilante whose outward meekness and sweetness belies a very sick mind? Gale and his director Sam Irvin either were not sure themselves or were determined to have the viewer draw their own conclusions, and you would prefer to believe they trusted us with the intelligence to consider the pros and cons weighed up before us, with a wacky comedy flavour to offset the fact that most of the characters were deranged or criminal. One of those criminals is who ends up in Kallin's cells is Hamilton (Michael Beach), who is genuinely innocent of the murder charge he has been landed with, not that the vigilantes believe his protestations.

The actual culprit is governor candidate Stanford (Lyman Ward), a corrupt official who was about to be exposed by his mistress so contrived to frame petty thief Hamilton as the killer when he knocked him out. This dilemma is what the story revolves around, as Kimberly Adams (Heather Graham, fresh off Twin Peaks on TV), an assistant in Stanford's office who works for the parole board, wants to back his zero tolerance policies but has a conscience which tells her rehabilitation is always a possibility for the wrongdoers. That is until she is nearly killed herself by one of her charges and is saved by Kallin, who shows her what he has planned: so off-kilter are these characters that they don't see much wrong with this amateur death penalty until something jolts them out of their complacency, as seen in the race against the clock finale. Steiger offered a proper performance this time (he often lapsed into self parody by that stage) and was backed by some canny performing which sold a deceptively complex theme, with Isaac Hayes particularly funny. Not perfect, but awkwardly hard to shake. Music by Steve Bartek.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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