Trial and Error (1997 film)

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For the 1962 British film, released in the United States as Trial and Error, see The Dock Brief.
Trial and Error
Trial and error poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jonathan Lynn
Produced by Jonathan Lynn
Gary Ross
Written by Sara Bernstein
Gregory Bernstein
Starring Michael Richards
Jeff Daniels
Charlize Theron
Rip Torn
Jennifer Coolidge
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release dates May 30, 1997
Running time 98 minutes
Language English
Budget $25 million
Box office $14,598,571

Trial and Error is a 1997 release from New Line Cinema starring Michael Richards, Jeff Daniels, and Charlize Theron, about an attorney and the attorney's actor friend, who takes his place in court to defend the boss's hopelessly guilty relative. Comedic interplay and new romance ensues.


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 Rjetti, (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.


Despite Richards' extreme popularity on Seinfeld, and Daniels' success as a comic actor in Dumb and Dumber, Trial and Error failed to be a big hit with critics and audiences alike. Most critics and audiences compared it to director Jonathan Lynn's far more critically and commercially successful courtroom comedy My Cousin Vinny with Joe Pesci and Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, since this film possesses a very similar plot. Austin Pendleton who played defense attorney John Gibbons in My Cousin Vinny, is cast in this film again by director Lynn as the judge, a role that was played by Fred Gwynne in the earlier film. Trial and Error earned a very low box office income of about $13 million domestically. Despite this, film critics Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin gave positive reviews to the film both rewarding it 3 stars out of a possible four.


Actor/Actress Role
Michael Richards Richard Rjetti
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
Lawrence Pressman Whitfield
Dale Dye Dr. German Stone
Max Casella Dr. Brown
McNally Sagal Charles' Assistant
Kenneth A. White Hank Crabbit
Keith Mills Buck Norman
Zaid Farid Bailiff

External links[edit]