Not to be confused with the 2000 Scott Bakula flick of the same name, Above Suspcicion stars Christopher Reeve as Dempsey Cain, a former Navy test pilot whose tenacity and eye for detail have netted him a palatial home, an attractive wife, and a career at which he excels. In the space of ten years, Dempsey quickly rose through the ranks in law enforcement, currently enjoying a prestigious position as a homicide detective. This is in sharp contrast to his brother Nick (Edward Kerr), who squandered his inheritance, has failed to make any headway as a cop, and seizes every possible opportunity to screw his sister-in-law Gail (Kim Cattrall).
Nick's perpetual screwing-up botches an investigation into the murder of a police officer by some Mexican drug-runners. Dempsey's unconventional methods had directly led to the identification of the murderers, much to the chagrin of bitter street cop Rhinehart (Joe Mantegna). As they prepare to burst into the suspects' seedy apartment, Nick's beeper goes off, alerting the criminals to their presence and sending them scattering. Four of the suspects are quickly subdued, but Nick's inability to sufficiently search for the elusive fifth leaves his brother with a bullet in the base of his spine.
Dempsey, now bound to a wheelchair, finds life unbearable as "half a man" and falls into a deep, alcohol-fueled depression. Any attempt at suicide would deprive his family of financial stability, but if he were murdered in, say, a robbery gone wrong, that'd be a $2 million insurance payday. Dempsey enlists his brother and wife's assistance in engineering this elaborate scheme, assigning them the weighty task of pulling the trigger and delivering the fatal shots. Needless to say for a movie like this, things don't quite go according to the established plan. The tables are turned, and Dempsey appears to have committed the perfect murder. He's so well-respected that no one suspects that anything nefarious could possibly be bubbling beneath the surface. Well, no one but Rhinehart, that is. Against the wishes of seemingly everyone around him, Rhinehart launches an investigation of his own, convinced there's more at play than a casual glance would suggest. Still, with as masterfully as Dempsey has manipulation those around him, Rhinehart has his work more than cut out for him.
Above Suspicion debuted on HBO in May 1995, and it's an eerie coincidence to see Christopher Reeve star as a paraplegic cop less than a week before a horse riding accident would leave him paralyzed. Unfortunately, that coincidence is perhaps the most notable aspect of this otherwise unremarkable TV movie.
Above Suspicion is technically competent in every respect. The camerawork is sharp, particularly in the movie's eye-catching final shot. The cast is uniformly great, particularly Christopher Reeve, who manages to make Dempsey's transition from wholesome to loathesome without losing the favor of the audience. Part of that can be attributed to Kim Cattrall and Edward Kerr, whose wholly unlikeable characters drive him to the edge. Kim Cattrall also isn't shy about baring it all in Above Suspicion, slipping out of her top whenver the opportunity presents itself. Joe Mantegna was the highlight of the movie for me, putting in a typically solid performance as an unrelenting street-wise cop. The screenplay, which was co-written by well-known character actor William H. Macy, is smarter than most entries in the genre. Above Suspicion doesn't telegraph its requisite twists and turns in advance, and what surprises are to be had are more believable than the absurdly preposterous twists that are prevalent in similar film. The ending is not what I would've expected either.
For a movie that would almost undoubtedly be classified on video store shelves as a suspense/thriller, there is a noticeable lack of thrills and suspense. Above Suspicion isn't the sort of movie that keeps viewers on the edge of their collective seat, and thougb I'd imagine that's by design, it doesn't make for the most compelling movie. I remained curious throughout as to what the resolution would turn out to be, but I never found myself particularly entranced or engaged by the movie. Above Suspicion is enjoyable but instantly forgettable. It's the sort of movie I'd probably sit down on spend a lazy Sunday afternoon with on cable, though I wouldn't go out of my way to see it and probably wouldn't bother ponying up a couple of bucks for a rental.
Video: Above Suspicion was produced in 1995 for HBO. This DVD is reflective of its cable origins, from the 1.33:1 aspect ratio to the overall quality of its appearance. Much of the movie, particularly some of the earlier interior shots, struck me as being a touch too dark. Shadow detail is frequently murky, and the darker portions of the frame have a tendency to devolve into a murky, indistinguishable black mess. Detail in general is muddy, and crispness and clarity seem to vary considerably from shot to shot. Some scenes are so soft and grainy, such as Gail chastizing Dempsey for staying up so late twenty-one minutes in, that they could almost pass for a pre-recorded VHS. Shimmering pops up intermittently around the blades of grass in the movie's final shot, a tie of Dempsey's, and blinds in the courtroom. Specks of various sizes are also scattered throughout the movie's 95 minute runtime. All things considered, this DVD could easily pass for a cable broadcast. Considering that's how the movie was initially seen, that's not the most damning criticism I could make, but Above Suspicion's plain presentation doesn't make a purchase any more compelling.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is limited in scope. Above Suspicion is primarily driven by dialogue, and every utterance is basically clear and discernable. There's little else of aural interest. The somber music is low in the mix, and neither the score nor the handful of gunshots in the movie manage to dip appreciably into the lower frequencies. Fairly unremarkable all around.
Other audio options include a monaural Spanish dub, subtitles in English, Spanish, and French, and closed captions.
Supplements: When the back of the snapper case lists "Audio" as a special feature, you know you're in for a pretty bare-bones disc. Above Suspicion doesn't offer much in the way of supplemental material, limited to biographies for Christoper Reeve, Joe Mantegna, Kim Cattrall, Edward Kerr, William H. Macy, Steven Schachter, and Jerry Lazarus.
The disc features a set of static 4x3 menus, and the movie has been divided into twelve chapters.
Conclusion: Above Suspicion is too routine to warrant a recommendation to anyone outside of the most dedicated fans of the cast. It's not a bad movie by any means, but I'd suggest sticking with a rental or waiting for a rebroadcast on cable rather than delving into a purchase sight-unseen. Rent It.
Random Note: Fans of the criminally overlooked Andy Richter Controls the Universe ought to recognize Jonathan Slavin in a brief role as a video store clerk. For whatever reason, he's credited here as Jonathan Friedman.