Guilty As Charged (1991, directed by Sam Irvin)


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Kalin (Rod Steiger) is a crazy old religious fanatic who is rich enough to own a meatpacking plant and hire goons to work for him.  Underneath the meatpacking plant, he has a secret prison and an electric chair that he uses to electrocute people who he feels have escaped justice.  Helping out Kalin is a crazy preacher, played by Isaac Hayes (!), who waxes philosophically about how much he loves the smell of burning flesh.

While Kalin and the gang are executing people below ground, parole officer Kimberly (Heather Graham) is above ground and wondering why so many ex-cons are mysteriously vanishing.  Kimberly is worried that someone may be executing them but then she gets distracted by a politician named Stanford (Lyman Ward).  Stanford wants Kimberly to work on his campaign because she looks like Heather Graham and he’s a sleazy politico.

Meanwhile, a man named Hamilton (Michael Beach) has escaped from prison.  Hamilton claims that he was framed for a murder that he didn’t commit but no one is willing to believe him.  However, Hamilton is telling the truth and the murder was actually committed by Stanford!  The only people who know that Stanford is the murderer are Stanford, his wife (Lauren Hutton!!), and his maid (Zelda Rubinstein!!!).

It all leads to one question: How did all of these talented people all end up in this crappy film!?

The strange thing about Guilty As Charged is that, even though the film is centered around the death penalty, the film itself doesn’t seem to have any opinion on the issue.  Kalin and his followers are crazy religious fanatics who claim that they’re doing God’s work by executing people and Hamilton is an innocent man who has been marked for death so you would think that the movie is against the death penalty.  But then, in a twist that makes no sense, Kalin reveals that he knows that Hamilton is innocent and he’s only using him to get to Stanford and suddenly, the film is for the death penalty.  Kimberly is worried that someone is targeting ex-cons but, by the end of the movie, she’s targeting ex-cons herself even though nothing’s happened that should have made her change her mind.

Guilty as Charged is technically a comedy, though most of the jokes are too thuddingly obvious to provoke even the slightest of a smile.  Hayes wins some laughs, just because he seems like he’s having fun.  Rod Steiger bellows as if he’s getting paid by the decibel and doesn’t seem to be having any fun at all.  Guilty as Charged isn’t funny and it’s not thought-provoking but at least it’s got Isaac Hayes.

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