The Evil and the Stupid

Reactionary and racist, Just Cause is just too dumb to get worked up about

6. Here's how the elaborate fake-out plot works: While doing time on death row, Bobby Earl works out a deal with a confessed mass-murderer -- an ivory-skinned, Bible-quoting maniac named Blair Sullivan (Ed Harris) -- to confess to the girl's murder and reveal the whereabouts of the murder weapon. In exchange, Bobby Earl agrees to kill the mass-murderer's parents once he wins his freedom. The knife, as it turns out, is hidden in the mouth of a storm drain. So the question: Is it really possible that for eight long years, there was no rain in the Everglades?

And is it really likely that a knife found in a storm drain eight years after a murder would prove jack one way or the other? More to the point, wouldn't someone somewhere, even someone from a Florida town full of racist morons, suspect the truth -- that Bobby Earl, a block mate of Blair Sullivan, could have told him where the knife was and thereby orchestrated Sullivan's phony revelation?

7. Throughout the picture, for some unexplained reason, various character actors keep repetitiously grinding their teeth as if chewing something we can't see. Question: Is it scenery?

8. One of the key factors that makes Armstrong believe in Bobby Earl's innocence is the fact that he's a former college scholarship student -- handsome, articulate and presentable. Given that the film's characters are conceived in archetypal terms and are presented as emblematic of certain kinds of black and white people, and considering that Bobby Earl is guilty as hell, is one of the messages of Just Cause that we shouldn't be fooled by such outward traits -- that despite outward appearances, all young black men have the capacity for violence?

9. Did Blair Underwood and Laurence Fishburne, two of the most gifted black actors of their generation, ever express concern to their agents that they were acting in a bigoted, reactionary and thoroughly stupid movie?

10. During the climax, which sees Laurie Armstrong and her prepubescent daughter sexually menaced by a sweaty, gun-and-knife-wielding, foul-mouthed, bug-eyed Bobby Earl, did it occur to anyone involved that the setup is so inherently racist that even D.W. Griffith might have thought twice about staging it?

11. When informed of Blair Sullivan and his Henry Lee Lucas-length list of heinous offenses, Professor Armstrong seems surprised, as if he's never heard of one of the most grotesque and colorful serial killers in the nation. Armstrong is also surprised to discover that his wife once prosecuted a wrongly accused man in a racially charged kidnapping case. He is also surprised to learn that Bobby Earl was involved in such a case to begin with, despite having been given access to both newspaper back issues and police records. So when Paul Armstrong's adventure in the Everglades was over and he returned to Harvard, were the other people in his department surprised to learn that their esteemed colleague is a complete idiot?

12. Early on in the movie, before he realizes he's been played by Bobby Earl for the mush-headed liberal sissy that he is, Paul Armstrong tells the small-town cops, "If what you got was a confession, then my ass is a banjo!" -- a statement that, one assumes, is considered a sly, folksy homily in Scotland.

Given that what the cops got actually was a confession, coerced or no, wouldn't a more appropriate ending for the film show Armstrong striding to the podium at the next meeting of the Harvard debating society, dropping his pants, grasping his pasty white buttocks, and launching into a spirited rendition of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown?"

Just Cause.
Directed by Arne Glimcher. With Sean Connery, Ed Harris, Laurence Fishburne and Kate Capshaw.

Rated R.
102 minutes.

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