Trial and Error is a 1997 American comedy film about an attorney and his actor friend, who takes his place in court to defend the boss's hopelessly guilty relative. It stars Michael Richards, Jeff Daniels and Charlize Theron.
Charlie Tuttle (Jeff Daniels) is a partner in a successful law firm, Whitfield and Morris. His boss and future father-in-law sends him to Paradise Bluff, Nevada, to request a continuance in a mail-fraud case involving a distant relative who is believed to be guilty, and is very likely to be adjudged guilty. But the timing of the trip conflicts with Charlie's bachelor party. After Charlie drives from California to Paradise Bluff, he is unexpectedly greeted by his best man, actor Richard Rietti, (Michael Richards) who is determined to show his friend a great time prior to his wedding.
During the celebration, Charlie is knocked out in a barfight, and is later prescribed painkillers for the resulting pain. The next day — the day of the court appearance — Richard checks on his friend and finds Charlie has taken all of the pills in the bottle. Charlie winds up in no shape to appear in court that day, as legal counsel for con-artist Benny Gibbs (Rip Torn), so Richard impersonates Charlie. When the case unexpectedly goes to trial, Richard and Charlie must continue the charade, or they both will go to prison for perpetrating and conspiring to perpetrate a fraud upon the court.
Charlie coaches Richard as to the use of the rules of evidence, masquerading as Richard's "assistant", surreptitiously using flash cards to tell Richard which basis for objection to use. Charlie eventually loses it and screams at the judge, (Austin Pendleton) trying to overrule Charlie, when Richard disobeys Charlie and takes the "defense" in a broader direction, and Charlie is banned from reentering the courthouse. Later, Richard and Charlie devise a communication system involving a baby monitor and morse-code sounding of Charlie's vehicle's horn, heard through an open window, to instruct Richard as to which type of objection to use.
Meanwhile, Charlie meets and falls in love with an attractive waitress Billie Tyler (Charlize Theron) who causes Charlie to rethink his impending wedding to his shrill, self-absorbed fiancée, Tiffany (Alexandra Wentworth). Richard becomes involved with the prosecutor, Elizabeth (Jessica Steen) against whom he ultimately finds due process for "his" client.
|Michael Richards||Richard Rietti|
|Jeff Daniels||Charlie Tuttle|
|Charlize Theron||Billie Tyler|
|Jessica Steen||Elizabeth Gardner|
|Austin Pendleton||Judge Paul Z. Graff|
|Rip Torn||Benjamin Gibbs|
|Alexandra Wentworth||Tiffany Whitfield|
|Jennifer Coolidge||Jacqueline "Jackie" Turreau|
|Dale Dye||Dr. German Stone|
|Max Casella||Dr. Brown|
Despite Richards's extreme popularity on Seinfeld, and Daniels's success as a comic actor in Dumb and Dumber, Trial and Error failed to be a hit with critics and audiences alike, although Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin gave it positive reviews, both awarding it three stars out of a possible four. Most critics and audiences compared it to director Jonathan Lynn's earlier critically and commercially successful courtroom comedy My Cousin Vinny, with Joe Pesci and Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei. Austin Pendleton, who played defense attorney John Gibbons in My Cousin Vinny, is cast again, this time as the judge. Trial and Error earned a very low box office income of about $13 million domestically.