The Gingerbread Man (1998) starring Kenneth Branagh, Embeth Davidtz, Robert Downey Jr., Daryl Hannah, Tom Berenger, Famke Janssen, Mae Whitman, Jesse James, Robert Duvall directed by Robert Altman Movie Review

The Gingerbread Man (1998)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Kenneth Branagh as Rick Magruder in The Gingerbread Man

Grisham's Gingerbread is a bit Limp

"The Gingerbread Man" is not an adaptation of a John Grisham book instead comes from a discarded manuscript which he wrote and to be honest it is a rather strange experience because it's not what I expected. Okay so it has all those classic John Grisham elements with it being set in the South and the lawyer who becomes personally involved in a case and so on. It also has a top notch director in Robert Altman and a solid cast which includes Kenneth Branagh, Embeth Davidtz and Robert Downey Jr. But it doesn't really feel like the power house legal drama that you expect from John Grisham or to be honest one of Altman's clever movies, in fact it feels shockingly routine and very mainstream which frankly is disappointing.

Having come to the rescue of caterer Mallory Doss (Embeth Davidtz - Murder in the First) when her car is stolen, Savannah lawyer Rick Magruder (Kenneth Branagh - Peter's Friends) ends up back at hers and having a one night stand. But he becomes hooked on her and discovering that her wacko father Dixon (Robert Duvall - Phenomenon) has been stalking her uses his team of investigators and detectives as well as the power of the law to have Dixon put into a mental institution. But when he escapes it seems like Dixon is after revenge and comes after not only Mallory but Rick and his children from his first marriage.

Robert Duvall as Dixon Doss in The Gingerbread Man

To be honest the problem with "The Gingerbread Man" is that it is a movie of two halves and the second half is weak. The first half is actually quite good and feels very much a John Grisham story as the set up is put into place and we meet all the pivotal characters. It may all seem very stereotypical as we are in Savannah and we have a slick southern lawyer in Rick Magruder who ends up falling for the fragile Mallory Doss but it works. And the story of her wacko father Dixon Doss, who stalks her, is quite good as well combining nicely with Rick's affair with Mallory. It may take a while to put everything into place with Mallory's father being committed for been unstable and dangerous but it gets there.

But then you get the second half which sees Dixon and his group of equally wacko followers appear to be terrorizing Rick and Mallory having escaped from the mental institution and it's all so obvious. It's so obvious that all is not as it seems and that Rick's kids which he gets to see 1 day a week will end up being involved. In away Altman knows that the storyline is obvious and tries to make it a guessing game as to who is behind all the trouble which Rick finds himself in, is it Dixon, maybe it's Mallory's ex husband Pete Randle or even Clyde Pell the detective who works for Rick. But it doesn't take a genius to work it out long before it is made clear and so what we get is a lot of frantic action as Rick ends up going after Dixon when his kids goes missing.

What is really annoying is that this second half feels like it could have been written by anyone and the strong legal aspect which usually fills Grisham's stories seems to have gone by the wayside. It doesn't feel right to not have that big legal side and even the few scenes which do take place in the courtroom lack the excitement you expect. It makes "The Gingerbread Man" feel less like a John Grisham movie and one by just about anyone.

And in many ways the weakness of the storyline and the lack of the powerful legal side is a shame as the casting is very good. It may seem weird for Kenneth Branagh to be playing a Deep South lawyer but he does a good job and brings a seriousness to his character of Rick Magruder making him less a charmer but a man who exudes power and confidence. And Branagh works nicely with Embeth Davidtz who as a Mallory Doss has this feisty facade but is vulnerable underneath almost at breakdown point from her father's strange stalking, although you do have to question whether as a stranger Mallory would strip naked in from of Rick after he's driven her home, a scene which is so out of place in the movie it spoils things.

But whilst Branagh and Davidtz work well together and the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Daryl Hannah, Famke Janssen and Tom Berenger all put in solid performances it is Robert Duvall who steals the movie as Dixon Doss. Every scene which Duvall shows up in with his tramp like look, filthy bare feet and straggly hair comes to life because he creates this interesting character this man who is psychologically not all there, a man who is angry but then is quite believable when protesting his innocent when dragged into court. Without Duvall's scene stealing performance "The Gingerbread Man" would have struggled to be average.

What this all boils down to is that "The Gingerbread Man" whilst entertaining is only average and doesn't really feel like a John Grisham story. It does have those stereotypical Grisham elements from the lawyer and the Deep South but the powerful legal side of things seems to be lacking and instead we have a rather routine and not that clever thriller.

Tags: John Grisham