Judicial Consent: Suspense Thriller, Starring Bonnie Bedelia

Judicial Consent aspires to belong to the league of suspense thrillers about female lawyers, like Jagged Edge with Glenn Close or Cher’s vehicle, Suspect. Its star, the graceful Bonnie Bedelia, does an honorable job, but the film’s “B” plot and its lack of sustained suspense make it just another generic item. As such, it’s best suited to the tube with good prospects on video.

Gwen Warwick (Bedelia) is a stern, accomplished criminal court judge, soon to be appointed to the Michigan State Supreme Court. Seemingly curious and sexually unfulfilled, one night she follows Martin (Billy Wirth), a sexy law clerk, into his office and a steamy affair evolves, though she knows nothing about him.

When Gwen’s roguish colleague, Charles Matron (Dabney Coleman), “a chronic flirt,” is found dead in his office, she’s asked to preside over his murder case. Soon, what seemed “circumstantial” evidence turns out to be a well-planned and planted case, resulting with Gwen as the prime suspect. Realizing she’s been set up, Gwen begins a desperate race against time to prove her innocence.

The courtroom format relies heavily on fine-tuned dialogue and unanticipated revelations, but Bindley’s writing, specifically in the court sequences, is borderline banal and the disclosures made not particularly suspenseful.

Though a first-time helmer, Bindley gives his picture a smooth and polished look, displaying some mastery over the genre’s tricks– and visual cliches. Dark lofts, swinging doors, empty parking lots, and so on are all nicely handled, but they’re also familiar to an audience that always seems to be ahead of the story’s characters.

Bedelia gives a dominating performance, but the woman she plays is too intelligent and too bright to behave in such senseless manner. Lawyers, particularly women, might find offensive an erotic scene under the table in Gwen’s office, reaching orgasm while negotiating an important assignment on the telephone.

Patton, who is usually brilliant in small offbeat roles, is miscast here in the underwritten role of the bland husband; we never get a sense of the kind of marriage the Warwicks have. As Martin, gifted character actor Coleman is wasted in an unrewarding role, while Wirth mostly acts on his handsome looks as the stranger with a “mysterious” motive. Judicial Consent is too obvious and too conscious of its genre.