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Seven Hours To Judgment
(1988)
 

Director: Beau Bridges                   
Cast:
Beau Bridges, Ron Leibman, Julianne Phillips


Beau Bridges and Ron Leibman are reunited in Seven Hours To Judgment, but this is nowhere near Your Three Minutes Are Up. What we have here instead is an incredibly stupid thriller, not only inept in its attempts to thrill and twist us around, but inept that it forgets most of the time that it's supposed to be trying to thrill us. For what's supposed to be a life or death situation, it's surprising how boring everything is played out. It's so lackluster, that I didn't care the least how the situation got wrapped up, as long as it wrapped up as quickly as possible.

This was Beau Bridges' first time in the director's chair, and to call it an inauspicious debut would be a kindness. Ever seen the footage a child shoots the first time he gets his hands on a video camera? That's actually not that far removed from a number of scenes Bridges directs here. Take the opening scene, a dream sequence (which apparently has no purpose, except maybe to help the movie to get to its short running time of 89 minutes) showing a mishmash of unrelated scenes. The tilted hand-held camera is wildly moved around a dark room, we see flash-forwards of a scene that happens later in the movie, then we see Bridges in a room holding his head and screaming while a big gale of wind blasts around him. Except for the wind, that's how I was soon found myself, because apparently Bridges didn't give the musical score proper consideration; this scene and the rest of the movie is cursed with the horrible sounds of crashings, dingings, and guitar shrieks provided by film composer John Debney, resulting in one of the worst movie scores ever composed.

The biggest problem in the direction is that despite the situation, there is absolutely no tension, no sense of desperation that a movie along this line needs. In describing that, I first have to explain the setup of the story, which will also give me the chance to bring up some of the plot stupidities at the same time: In some unnamed city that looks a heck of a lot like Seattle (but has a large subway system) Bridges' character is a judge, apparently one so incompetent that he can barely control the courtroom in the scene that shows him in action. He has been assigned to judge the preliminary hearing for a gang accused of shoving a woman in front of a subway train. The husband of the victim (Leibman) barges into Bridges' chambers while Bridges watches TV, pleading for him to delay the trial so he can have time to get some evidence he says is coming. Bridges refuses, rhetorically asking why he doesn't go to the police or D.A. with this. (A good point - though since Leibman never gives a good answer to this, this exchange just becomes another inept characteristic of the script.)

Later in court, feeling that there is insufficient evidence presented by the prosecution, Bridges reluctantly dismisses the case. A few hours later, Bridges is kidnapped at gunpoint by an enraged Leibman, who blames Bridges for not doing enough to try and punish his wife's killers. Taking Bridges to an especially rough part of the city, Leibman reveals that he has kidnapped and secretly hidden elsewhere Bridges' wife, and that he is prepared to kill her. Bridges has no choice but to obey him, since Leibman has, in just a few hours, rigged the abandoned warehouse with various electronic gizmos and traps. However, Bridges can save her if he goes out on a rough trek through various parts of the neighborhood to find the evidence Leibman was originally going to get. Forbidden to call the police, and having no money or credit cards, Bridges now has the task of running around this ghetto neighborhood on foot in the middle of the night, and to return with the evidence in seven hours or less.

And that's what we see him do - a lot. We see him run across a street, run across another street, run into subway stations, run underneath the bowels of the city, run here, and run there. He does far more running than actually stopping at certain places to try and find the evidence. Because of this, there's no feeling of tension, no sense that he's running out of time. If he had a number of things that he had to do, a number of places to go, a sense of being overwhelmed with many difficult things to do could generate much feelings. The few times he does stop to try and get the evidence, his efforts are mostly confined to asking questions instead of more strenuous efforts.

He does get abused in various ways along his journey, but there's always the feeling whatever abuse he is suffering at the moment will be over with quickly, so tension that could be built by the feeling he's being delayed is never realized. The strange thing is that I think most viewers will actually be pleased whenever this protagonist gets into a mess. Before his wife gets kidnapped, Bridges character is shown to be so smarmy, blabbing small yet idiotic monologues that furthers his unlikeabilty, that I was hoping the worst for him. I smiled when he was beaten up by a street gang. I laughed when a bag lady jumped on his bones and started licking his face. It was a big thrill to see him get maced in his eyes, and later having to speed to a destination by jumping into the back of a garbage truck, just like the garbage he is.

The other characters in the movie are equally poor in their writing, which may explain the bad performances by everyone in the cast. As Bridges' spouse, Julianne Phillips is spared the most embarrassment, because her character is drugged or tied and gagged for most of the movie. However, she does have one of the worst scenes in the movie, where she initiates an intimate encounter with her husband by asking him to, "Preside over my bench" (Ugh!) Leibman, looking very much like Joe Pesci's brother here, seems to be very angry being in this movie while he screams out loud lines of dialogue like, "TICK! TICK! TICK! TOCK! TOCK! TOCK!" Perhaps he was not only annoyed with the dialogue, but being saddled with a character that on one hand wants the evidence, yet tries to pull traps that will stop Bridges, including at one point calling up the gang that murdered his wife to tell them Bridges is nearby. For a guy that supposedly wants justice, he apparently has no real plan to strike at the gang.

While I'm speaking of the gang, let me talk about the ridiculous lengths the movie goes in order not to offend anyone. The members of the gang are black, and in what seems to be a big effort to balance things out, every other black person with a speaking part in the movie is an authority figure, such as a bailiff, subway security guard, or Bridges' best friend and psychiatrist. (After being introduced, this friend is brought up again midway through the proceedings to be plunked in a totally gratuitous scene that does nothing for the plot.) I think most viewers, of any race, will be more offended by this heavy-handed balancing act than if it wasn't there in the first place. However, I think most of them will have long stopped watching before it really becomes apparent.

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See also: Goodbye Pork Pie, A Savage Hunger, Your Three Minutes Are Up

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