Insurance salesman Richard Ramsey (Andrew McCarthy) has an enormous policy on his wife, so is the top suspect when Sarah (Kate McNeil) is brutally slain, the murder mystery Escape Clause (1996), originally a Showtime cablefilm.
To the viewer point of view, Richard looks shellshocked, horrified, & innocent. To homicide detective Lt. Gil Farrand (Paul Sorvino), it appears that Richard has multiple motives, having recently learned his wife had cheated on him, having the big insurance pay-off to gain, plus he's been treated for mental illness.
Lt. Farran offers the theory that there were two killers, & promises Richard he'll never give up, "Until I find the other guy," with the clear implication that he already knows Richard is the first guy.
His children Teddy & Nora (Sean & Chantel Dick) are heirs to Sarah's separate fortune, by prenup agreement arranged by the grandparents, who never liked or trusted Richard.
As the police focus on him as a murderer, & his in-laws threaten to take the children, Richard descends into paranoia. He hires Charlie (Shawn Lawrence), an alcoholic detective, to look for the real killer, since Richard alone knows he's innocent.
He begins to suspect longterm friends of having set him up; then he is torn whether to believe an allegation that Sarah had hired a killer to get her husband.
And when he discovers that Lt. Farrand has a personal grudge against the insurance company Richard works for, even the police seem to him plausibly guilty. It could be anyone. But never himself.
[SPOILER ALERT!] The climax involves Richard's race to save his children from the nutter cop. The flaw in this twist is in a script that requires Sorvino to entirely change the manner by which he plays his character, as he is such a straight & narrow Columbo style cop, & never for a moment hints of craziness until the end, when suddenly he's so over the top it seems unlikely such a lunatic could've sustained the sanity act so long.
There's never a moment when we question the outcome of that final confrontation, as when's the last time you saw a film in which a child trapped on a railroad track is not saved at the last possible minute.
It's a cliche that goes to the silent era's Perils of Pauline (1914), so the suspense just isn't there. Even so, Sorvino is a good enough actor to make watching his psycho act worthwhile, despite a script that makes his character much too unlikely. [END SPOILERS]
Low budget & lowkey, Escape Clause had no budget for big action or big events, so relies on the mystery plot & the ability of actors to bring it across. It adds up to an effective even if imperfect & minor thriller, with reasonable performances, worth the viewing if it pops up on the telly, but not so interesting as to bother ferretting it out on purpose.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl