High-order hackwork

Altman uses his magic to distract us from the same old Grisham-isms in The Gingerbread Man

In moments like these, Altman is functioning as an artist. But most of the time he's playing it safe--at least for him. No overlapping dialogue, no complex soundscapes, no dynamiting of genre expectations. So why was Polygram Films, which made the movie, so nervous about what Altman gave them? Last summer the studio, in a highly publicized move, actually took the picture away from Altman following some lukewarm test-audience reactions and attempted their own re-edit--which didn't test any better. One might think that a director of Altman's stature would be beyond the reach of such movie-company meddling, but why be surprised? Polygram's behavior is a prime example of modern Hollywood at its bottom-line basest. The studio execs apparently never bothered to look at Altman's other movies, or else why hire him to make a Grisham sausage and then complain that there's some Altman in it too?

The irony is that The Gingerbread Man, for all its flair, is too conventional. Altman gave Polygram what they wanted, and they didn't even know it. It's the best of the Grisham movies. Now, if only it were the last.

The Gingerbread Man.
Directed by Robert Altman. Written by Al Hayes; based on an original story by John Grisham. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Embeth Davidtz, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Berenger, Daryl Hannah. Opens Friday.

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