Surprising plot twists keep 'Defenseless' thrilling and irresistible


Thrillers make us think, "How can she be stupid enough to walk into that room alone -- hasn't she ever seen a movie!" Martin Campbell's "Defenseless" isn't good enough to keep us from asking such questions, but it's scary enough to make us forget them almost as soon as they come to mind.

"Defenseless" is the kind of movie that throws a sucker punch. It seems straightforward, then -- just when you think it's all over -- it whirls off in an unexpected direction.

Attorney T. K. Katwuller (Barbara Hershey) is having an affair with a client, Steven Seldes (J. T. Walsh). He's a wealthy developer being prosecuted for involving minors in pornography. She believes he's innocent.

She also believes him when he says he's about to leave his wife. Then she runs into an old college chum, Ellie (Mary Beth Hurt), whom she hasn't seen in 20 years. When Ellie pulls out her wallet to show T. K. pictures of the family, guess who her hubbie is?

Soon after, T. K. learns that Steven is indeed a sleazoid who uses teen-agers in his films. She's so upset when she learns this that -- in her struggle to get away from him -- she breaks his nose and stabs him in the arm. But someone else, who was hiding in the office at the time, finishes Steven off after T. K. runs out.

Although T. K. leaves behind evidence that incriminates her, it is Ellie who gets charged with the murder. T. K.'s situation is complicated when Ellie asks her to defend her.

Those aren't T. K.'s only problems. Steven's killer is probably the same fundamentalist, homicidal maniac who was sent over the edge by the use of his daughter in pornography. And now he's after T. K.

The complicated plot is paced with verve by Martin Campbell. The screen play by James Hicks is excellent. We can believe, for example, that T. K. would never notice the missing murder weapon under the seat of her car because it's made clear early in the film that she's too big a slob to pay attention to such things.

The performances -- especially those by Hershey, Hurt and Sam Shepard as the investigating officer -- are fine and there is a terrific score by Curt Sobel.


Starring Barbara Hershey, Sam Shephard, Mary Beth Hurt and J. T. Walsh.

Directed by Martin Campbell.

Released by New Line Cinema.

Rating: R.

** 1/2

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