Matthew McConaughey plays a slick Los Angeles criminal defense attorney in the movie adaptation of Michael Connelly's legal thriller The Lincoln Lawyer. Audiences are likely to have strong memories of the star as a perspiring Mississippi lawyer 15 years ago in the movie adaptation of John Grisham's legal thriller A Time to Kill. Those customers will be pleased to know that the guy still looks great arguing in a courtroom, still delivers his lines with a variable drawl implying barbecue for dinner. This time, McConaughey is Mick Haller, who's familiar to fans of Connelly's best-selling detective novels as the half brother of the LAPD's Harry Bosch. Haller's an unorthodox smoothie: His ''office'' is the backseat of his chauffeured Lincoln Continental, and his clients tend to be colorful bottom-of-the-deck types that character actors love.
The lawyer's newest client, though, is fancier goods. Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe, his petulant lip telegraphing his attitude) is the son of a rich family, and he's been charged with attempted rape and murder. He swears innocence, but he may or may not be guilty. And his case bumps up against that of another former Haller client already wrongly convicted. The whole thing gets Haller's moral gyroscope whirling in a way that makes for good reading but not automatically compelling moviegoing. Plot leaps that are fun on paper look generic on screen; here's another lawyer movie in which the characters are only as interesting as the actors playing them. At least director Brad Furman gives them their space. Among the draws: William H. Macy (in Shameless hair) as Haller's investigator; Marisa Tomei as a DA who's also Haller's ex-wife; and Bryan Cranston (with more hair than on Breaking Bad) in a small, swell role as a hard-ass homicide detective. B