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SHADOW OF FEAR (director: Rich Cowan; screenwriters: Matthew Hollaway/Arthur Marcum; cinematographer: Dan Heigh; editor: Jeff Douglas; music: Stephen Edwards; cast: James Spader (William Ashbury), Matt Davis (Harrison French), Aidan Quinn (Detective Scofield), Peter Coyote (Congressman Henderson), Robin Tunney (Wynn French), Alice Krige (Margie Henderson), Lacey Chabert (Allison Henderson), John G. Phillips (Chief Webb), David Andriole (John Sawgrass), Shirly Brener (Janey Sawgrass), Andrew Harris (Chris Henderson); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: David E. Ornston/Jennifer Daly/Timothy Puntillo/Richard Salvatore/John Thompson; Lions Gate Home Entertainment; 2004)
“A film that’s so bad it’s actually bad.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A film that’s so bad it’s actually bad. A ludicrous suspense film about a Machiavellian lawyer, William Ashbury (James Spader), who blackmails a number of prominent citizens and forces them to do illegal things for him so that he will not turn them in. Rich Cowan’s trashy thriller never worked because it was not possible to buy into the plot line, the dialogue was dreadful, the characters were unsympathetic to a man, there were holes in the story as big as an ocean and it was unpleasant without any redeeming noteworthy features. Spader plays his villain part with the needed urgent intensity, but was up against a script that couldn’t be voiced without sounding ridiculous and his fine performance (a typical dark role now in Spader’s appearances only in B films) still left him looking like he had ham & eggs over his dandified kisser. The rest of the cast seemed to give up, sensing this one was too far gone to be saved, and just went through the motions.

On a rainy night, after being bitterly disappointed he blew a big deal for his real estate firm and was stuck in a financial mess, a drunk Harrison French (Matt Davis) accidently runs down a man and in a panic buries him by the side of the road in a shallow-grave. His embittered father-in-law, Congressman Doug Henderson (Pete Coyote), thinks of him as a handsome loser his daughter Wynn (Robin Tunney) somehow still greatly loves, but he’s tired of bailing the dunce out. The next morning Harrison learns through the news that the man he hit was possibly one of the two robbers at the local bank. In a panic he confesses everything to Ashbury, making the serious mistake of getting a lawyer before he needs a lawyer and then telling him his darkest secret. Ashbury impressed the not too bright Harrison because he presides every Tuesday night over a meeting held in secret that is attended by Congressman Henderson and several other respectable town leaders. Thinking everything is fine after leaving his lawyer’s house he soon learns the person he killed was Chris, the junkie son of the Congressman. His mangled body was identified by an ankle tattoo by Wynn and later confirmed by DNA.

Later Wynn discovers the muddy clothes her husband was wearing the night of the accident and fearful that her hubby killed her brother, she throws them in the river. A Detective Scofield (Aidan Quinn) is assigned the case and after given an anonymous tip (which came from the lawyer), he brings Harrison in for questioning. Ashbury, with the help of other members from the secret meeting, cooks up a scheme to get Harrison set free by sending the chief of police video proof that someone else not Harrison took the $200,000. Harrison soon learns that everyone in the secret society has committed a crime and now they must work for power-hungry psychopath Ashbury or else face jail time and the ruination of their respectable lives.Our bland hero fights back, and as one would expect in such a dumb film school type of story the heavy gets his comeuppance in the last reel. But it’s done in such a clumsy and unimaginative manner that the illogical thriller in the end only left me feeling like, at least, my migraine was over.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”