A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
The ominous approach of Hurricane Geraldo drenches the opening scenes of Robert Altman's "The Gingerbread Man" in sheets of rain and darkness at noon. John Grisham, who wrote the story, named the hurricane well, for like a week's episodes of the Geraldo television program the movie features divorce, adultery, kooky fringe groups, kidnapped children, hotshot lawyers, drug addiction and family tragedy. That it seems a step up from sensationalism is because Grisham has a sure sense of time and place, and Altman and his actors invest the material with a kind of lurid sincerity.
As the film opens, a lawyer named Magruder (Kenneth Branagh, Georgia accent well in hand) has won a big case and driven back to his Savannah law offices for a celebration. Awaiting him in Georgia are his faithful assistant Lois ( Daryl Hannah), his faithless estranged wife Leeanne (Famke Janssen) and his office staff, not excepting the muddled private investigator Clyde (Robert Downey, Jr.). After a catered office party at which he drinks too much, Magruder leaves for his car, only to find a woman outside in the rain, screaming after her own departing car. This is Mallory Doss (Embeth Davidtz), who was a waitress at the party, and now believes her car to be stolen.
Magruder offers her his cell phone and then a ride home, where, to their amazement, they find her stolen car. Her door is unlocked, the lights are on, a TV is playing, and she hints darkly that this sort of thing has happened before. It may be the work of her father, who belongs to a "group." Weeping and lashing out at her absent parent, Mallory absent-mindedly undresses in front of Magruder, and as thunder and lighting tear through the sky they engage in what is categorically and unequivocally a sexual relationship.
Neat touch in the morning: Magruder prods Mallory's prone body and, getting no response, dresses and leaves, while we wonder if she's dead and he will be framed with the crime. Not at all. A much more complex plot is afoot, and only after the movie is over do we think back through the plot, trying to figure out what the characters planned in advance, and what was improvised on the spot.