Jury Duty

(John Fortenberry, USA, 1995)


Did the script for this shambling, nerdy comedy start out, I wonder, as a straight thriller? In between the sluggish gags, obligatory pop culture references and television pastiches, one can clearly see the outline of an old-fashioned courtroom drama, spliced with a topical serial-killer element.

The jury's deliberations, the element of mystery intrigue, the crowning plot switcheroo, the climactic scene of violent struggle – these elements might have come straight out of a thriller such as Guilty as Sin (1993).

Whether it was initially conceived as a thriller, or as some off-beat hybrid of drama and Animal House-style comedy, Jury Duty now plays as one long showcase for its star, Pauly Shore. This veteran of Encino Man (1992) and Son in Law (1993) may not have much of a following (at least in Australia) beyond a small circle of video buffs, but he is certainly a curious case.

A bizarre mixture of Jerry Lewis, Forrest Gump and both guys from Wayne's World (1992), Shore here plays Tommy, a dopey, lumpenproletariat dreamer with a murderous whine and absolutely no energy level. The only thing that gets Tommy's adrenalin going is the realisation that, by drawing out the deliberations of a jury in a gruesome murder trial, he can keep staying in a luxury hotel.

There isn't much more to the plot beyond a parodic love interest between Shore and Tia Carrere, and a woeful attempt to turn Tommy into a righteous hero in the last act. The humour never gets very far above snickering references to the O. J. Simpson trial, or easy deflations of New Age self-improvement fads.

Ideologically speaking, however, there is something deeply horrible moving in the bowels of this movie. Comedies about serial murder are always a risky proposition; this one compounds the gall by hurling in supposedly outrageous jokes about the "revenge of the working class", multicultural America, and "psycho environmentalists". It's one of those wilfully politically incorrect movies now being produced in droves.

But nothing is weirder, post-Priscilla (1994), than Jury Duty's attitude towards gayness. Here is a film that definitely swings both ways. It enjoys nothing more than a bit of queer humour involving Shore in drag, rolling around on the floor with the alleged serial killer. But it ends, emphatically, with a song that screams: "I'm a Heterosexual Man".

© Adrian Martin August 1995

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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