For a re­view of “The Judge,”

The Republican Herald - This Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROGER MOORE

“The Judge” daw­dles, lingers, takes side­bars and re­cesses — much like a celebrity trial in which TV cam­eras have been al­lowed into the court­room.

A bloated all-star melo­drama with none of the lean, mean legalese of a John Gr­isham adap­ta­tion, it’s a show­boat’s movie cast with a lot of ac­tors each promised “a big, cool scene.” And when those scenes of love, fam­ily, sex, ill­ness and autism, small town life and court­room con­fronta­tion show up, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Du­vall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thorn­ton and Vincent D’Onofrio swing for the fences.

The trou­ble with that is, the script has short­ened th­ese fences to Lit­tle League range.

Downey stars as Hank Palmer, hot- shot Chicago at­tor­ney to the rich and in­fa­mous. He’s “not en­cum­bered” by the lim­i­ta­tions of truth, honor or rep­u­ta­tion, he ad­mits. Which is one big rea­son he’s es­tranged from his fa­ther, a leg­endary small­town In­di­ana judge.

But when mom dies, Hank has to fly home. His lit­tle girl (Emma Trem­blay, all paste­don perk­i­ness) won­ders if grandpa’s dead, too.

“Grandpa Palmer’s dead to ME, ”Hank riffs. That’s how Downey plays things th­ese days, his an­tic ban­ter has be­come a trade­mark, like Jimmy Ste­wart or Jack Le­mon’s stam­mer­ing, like Will Smith’s “Oh HELL no.” It’s a crutch.

Watch him trot it out when he re­unites with his Car­linville, In­di­ana, brothers. Autis­tic Dale ( Jeremy Strong) and ex- jock Glen (D’Onofrio) need re­mind­ing that their ogre of an old man threw things at them.

“But he threw things at us to get our at­ten­tion, NOT to draw blood,” Glen jokes. And ra­tio­nal­izes.

Hank can­not re­con­nect with the harsh, self-right­eous judge (Du­vall). And then the old man, who has grown for­get­ful, is ac­cused of killing somebody with his car. He needs the eth­i­cally sus­pect wiseacre to re­mind him that if “You don’t talk, you walk.” Be­cause grumpy dad is de­ter­mined to use a lo­cal rube who moon­lights as an an­tiques dealer (a goofy Dax Shep­ard) as his lawyer.

The case gives Hank the ex­cuse to re­call the charms of the red­neck but pic­turesque mill town where he grew up, the ill- tem­pered lo­cals (watch him mock­ingly size up a mob, “Sher­lock Holmes” fash­ion) and the girl he left be­hind.

Vera Farmiga plays the shapely, coun­try gal old flame. Leighton Meester is her hot-to-trot grown daugh­ter. Yeah, they’re both eye­ing the rich out-of-town at­tor­ney.

The story lurches from awk­ward yet funny se­duc­tions to autis­tic guy jokes, into death and di­vorce, dis­ease, the in­dig­ni­ties of old age and shat­tered dreams. Big se­crets are sug­gested and re­vealed. Almost every­body has one.

The great Janusz Kamin­ski (“Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan”) pho­tographed this, and it is sim­ply gor­geous — one im­mac­u­lately framed com­po­si­tion after another. Even the home movie footage flash­backs (Austis­tic Dale hides be­hind an old eight mil­lime­ter silent home movie cam­era) are beau­ti­ful.

And some of the scenes have spark. But it’s al­ways a showy sort of spark. Billy Bob Thorn­ton plays a lean, feral pros­e­cu­tor brought in to bring down the city slicker. Nat­u­rally, the movie makes a big deal out of his fancy fold­ing chrome wa­ter cup. Downey is al­ways en­gag­ing, even when he’s try­ing too hard. Du­vall still has that “Great San­tini” tantrum-tosser in him, and D’Onofrio and Farmiga are re­li­ably real.

But the script wastes a lot our time. There’s zero ten­sion to the court­room scenes, and a weird il­logic hang­ing over ev­ery abrupt lurch in tone or character be­hav­ior. Hank left 20 years ago, but grad­u­ated from high school in 1989. Downey and Farmiga are plainly in their mid- 40s, D’Onofrio even older. That chronol­ogy doesn’t work in the movie for rea­sons that will be ob­vi­ous if you see it.

Di­rec­tor David Dobkin (“The Change-Up”) is plainly more at home with the funny stuff, as are his un­der-cre­den­tialed screen­writ­ers. If they’d edited the movie that way, the dra­matic fail­ings wouldn’t have stood out so much.

As it is, this “celebrity trial” of a movie so over­stays its wel­come that no­body will care about the ver­dict when the jury ren­ders one on “The Judge.”

“The Judge,” a Warner Brothers re­lease, is rated R for lan­guage in­clud­ing some sex­ual ref­er­ences. Run­ning time:141 min­utes. ½

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