Class Action is a case where one great actor can make a movie look bad. It plays like a made-for-TV script, with a mediocre A-story about the shark-like legal world and a class-action lawsuit brought against an unscrupulous car manufacturer. But it’s the B-story, about a father and daughter who are equally cutthroat counselors that you find yourself looking forward to, and you realize it’s largely because Gene Hackman is featured more prominently in those scenes.

Hackman strides through the film like a Berkeley-born Clarence Darrow, a David eternally chasing corporate Goliaths, and rarely looking back at the fallout of his life. He’s a man of immense spirit, and has a name to match: Jedediah Tucker Ward. His daughter, Maggie (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), is just as smart and ruthless, but squirms in her father’s looming shadow, eager to match his stature.

The film takes turn after soap-opera turn, pitting one against the other: First, they’re assigned to opposite sides of the same case, with Maggie defending an automobile company that ignored test reports confirming one of their cars could explode on impact. Then, on the very first day in court, Maggie’s mother dies on the courthouse steps, forcing both of them closer together despite their natural combativeness.

This plotline feels shoehorned in to flesh out the characters, which is a shame. It’s a lot more original, and you find yourself wanting to linger in the scenes where Maggie and her father strive to reconnect without her mother/his wife there to play referee between both A-type personalities. Mastrantonio plays off Hackman well, and in a perfect bit of casting, he tends to dominate the scenes he’s in.

Unfortunately, the family drama finds itself on the back burner. What takes its place is a fairly dull and generic legal drama. Maggie finds herself questioning the motives of the company she’s representing the further into the case she’s drawn, and high-powered law firms are revealed to occasionally act in heartless ways. It’s nothing to write home about, and even if you enjoy legal dramas, there are better ones out there to seek

Andrew Good is a film critic and writer living in San Diego.

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