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KIDS ON FILM

Rights and Wrongs Unbalance Scales in 'Trial and Error'

June 12, 1997|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAGUNA NIGUEL — In "Trial and Error," Michael Richards of the NBC sitcom "Seinfeld" plays an actor who pretends he's an attorney when his lawyer best friend (Jeff Daniels) can't make it to court for an important case. Rated PG-13.

Michael Richards is one of the most distinctive comics working today. When he comes tripping through the door to Jerry's apartment in "Seinfeld," everything gets a little more interesting, a little more dizzy.

Teenagers and their parents can relate to Richards--he's a nut, and everybody loves a nut. Not surprisingly, several youngsters who saw "Trial and Error" readily admitted that the big draw was Richards. While few even recognized the actor's name, they certainly knew the goofball face.

"Kramer is cool!" said James Curtis, 14, of Laguna Beach. "That guy's Kramer, and he's so great."

Then why were James and some of his friends disappointed with "Trial and Error"?

"He was OK some of the time, [but] it wasn't like the ['Seinfeld'] show," James explained. "It was just 'duh' a lot of the time."

Mixed reviews were about as good as it got for "Trial and Error," which is being viewed as a major step for Richards and his movie career.

Teenagers didn't find enough of the unpredictability and rules-bending humor that Kramer brings to "Seinfeld" in this high-concept star vehicle. Richards tones down his performance (at least in comparison to the TV show), and that confused kids.

"I dunno why he wasn't like he is" on "Seinfeld," said Eve Simmons, 15, from Seal Beach. "I wanted him to be funnier."

They also thought it was odd that Daniels seemed to be the star, although Richards is played up bigger in most television commercials. Paul Saylor pointed out that Daniels gets some of the biggest laughs.

"That guy was pretty cool, [but] I didn't think they were excellent together," said the Laguna Niguel 13-year-old. "It should've been Kramer's movie right off."

As for the silly plot, even youngsters who are more than willing to put up with the absurdities of "Seinfeld" thought "Trail and Error" was about as believable as, say, Kramer getting elected president with Newman as his running mate. They thought any judge could tell immediately that Richards' character was not a real attorney.

"That was dumb," said Melinda Chessman, 14, from Irvine. "But it's just a movie, so I guess it can be pretty dumb."

Melinda was savvy enough to know that the picture was lampooning the justice system, especially all that happened during the O.J. Simpson trial.

She thought it was funny when Richards and Daniels develop a "Twinkie defense" for their client, a sleaze who bilks senior citizens of their life's savings. The gullible jury almost lets him off when told that his 40 years of fraud were the direct result of eating too much sugar.

"They say some dumb things" during real trials too, Melinda said. "You could almost see that happening" in real life.

James picked up on that as well, saying that while the movie wasn't very good, he enjoyed how it satirized the trial process. "Judges and stuff can be real stupid," he said.

One thing Melinda did like was the relationship that develops between Daniels and a pretty waitress. Daniels becomes so infatuated that he ditches his mean fiancee.

"You could see how he might fall in love with her," Melinda said. "She was so cool, [while] the other one was a creep."

*

STILL PLAYING: A recent movie that scored better with youngsters, mainly because of its smarts, is "Night Falls on Manhattan" (rated R), starring Andy Garcia as a district attorney in charge of a police corruption investigation.

The film posed many questions: Should those in law enforcement bend the rules to catch criminals? Is family more important than any ethical principle? And what exactly does it take to do the right thing?

Chelle Jordan's response was typical: "It made me wonder how far you can [bend] the truth," said the 15-year-old from Anaheim. "It made me think about lots of things, and that was good."

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