Trial and Error (1997 film)

Trial and Error is a 1997 American comedy film directed by Jonathan Lynn and starring Michael Richards, Jeff Daniels and Charlize Theron. The film's plot concerns an attorney and his actor friend, who takes his place in court to defend his boss's hopelessly guilty relative.

Trial and Error
Trial and error poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJonathan Lynn
Produced byJonathan Lynn
Gary Ross
Written bySara Bernstein
Gregory Bernstein
Music byPhil Marshall
Larger Than Life Productions
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Release date
  • May 30, 1997 (1997-05-30)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$25 million[1]
Box office$14,598,571


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 cousin-in-law 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 Paul Graff (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.


Actor/Actress Role
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 Matthew "Benny" Gibbs
Alexandra Wentworth Tiffany Whitfield
Jennifer Coolidge Jacqueline "Jackie" Turreau
Lawrence Pressman Whitfield
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. Many critics compared it to director Jonathan Lynn's earlier critically and commercially successful courtroom comedy My Cousin Vinny. Austin Pendleton, who played defense attorney John Gibbons in My Cousin Vinny, also appeared in Trial and Error, this time as the judge.

Trial and Error earned only around $13 million domestically and holds a rating of 50% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 36 reviews.


  1. ^ "Trial and Error - PowerGrid". Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 29 September 2017.

External linksEdit