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‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ (R)

A lawyer again: Matthew McConaughey, left, with Ryan Phillippe, is all dressed up in 'The Lincoln Lawyer.'
A lawyer again: Matthew McConaughey, left, with Ryan Phillippe, is all dressed up in 'The Lincoln Lawyer.'

Maybe putting on a shirt is good for Matthew McConaughey. In The Lincoln Lawyer, he dons a suit and gives a solid performance as Michael “Mickey” Haller, a Los Angeles defense attorney who spends his days flitting from scumbag to courthouse and courthouse to scumbag and back again. Such roaming all over the city — in the back seat of his Lincoln, which acts as his office — is all in a day’s work for Mickey, a grinning hustler who represents motorcycle gangs and prostitutes and doesn’t worry too much about the prosecutors and cops who think he’s a dirt bag for freeing the perps they’re trying to put away.

Then a bail bondsman (John Leguizamo) hooks him up with a different sort of client, one who claims he’s innocent. Louis Roulet (Ryan Philippe) is not a career criminal. He’s spoiled and wealthy — and in jail on charges of assaulting a young woman he followed home from a bar. He says he didn’t touch her; she set him up in order to sue him. He refuses to accept a plea bargain and demands the right to take the stand to defend himself. Mickey is skeptical but wonders if the guy is that all-too-rare and dangerous creature his lawyer father had warned him about: the truly innocent client.

But cases are never that simple, especially in stories dreamed up by bestselling suspense writer Michael Connelly, and new revelations in the investigation paint the accused attacker and victim in quite a different light. Based on the first novel in his series about Haller, The Lincoln Lawyer is a movie fans of the book should enjoy as much as the uninitiated. Screenwriter John Romano takes a few liberties in the crossover, mostly pruning down the action to make it more manageable on screen, but he keeps the essence of Connelly’s thriller without going so far astray as screenwriter Brian Helgeland did in Clint Eastwood’s version of Connelly’s Blood Work.

Most fans of the novel would probably tell you McConaughey isn’t someone they had pictured in the lead role, but he works out just fine, his laid-back, breezy charisma exactly what Mickey requires to do his job. Marisa Tomei turns up as his prosecutor ex-wife Maggie. They fall into bed on occasion, but there’s no mystery about why they’re not together: They loved each other enough to have a kid and a life for awhile, but their opposite-ends-of-the-courtroom antagonism never quite vanishes at home.

There are a few loose ends plot-wise, but the film’s worst enemy appears to be its trailers, which give away far too much. Protect yourself from them, and you’ll find The Lincoln Lawyer a breath of fresh air in this musty spring movie season.

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Philippe, Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas, William H. Macy, John Leguizamo.

Director: Brad Furman.

Screenwriter: John Romano. Based on the novel by Michael Connelly.

Producers: Sidney Kimmel, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg, Scott Steindorff, Richard S. Wright.

A Lionsgate Films release. Running time: 119 minutes. Some violence, sexual content, language. Opens Friday March 22 at area theaters.