If “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” got the respect it deserved, YouTube would be lousy with Det. Robert Goren supercuts -- rapid-fire montages highlighting the brilliant Major Case Squad officer (played by Vincent D'Onofrio) invading the personal space of suspects in the interrogation room, or on the scene manhandling intimate possessions as his partner Det. Alexandra Eames (Kathryn Erbe) questions the discombobulated person of interest.
Instead, at 9 p.m. ET Sunday on the USA Network, the 10-year-run of the third “Law & Order” franchise unceremoniously comes to an end. Sure it was a decade of uneven scripts, half-baked character arcs, annoying cast changes and a move from network TV to basic cable. But the one consistency in this yet-another-cheesy procedural crime drama made it worth that wasted hour on the couch: Goren and Eames.
Let’s be clear. On its own, “Criminal Intent” is just another Mad Libs procedural crime drama. The subject verbed the victim in the noun. Justice is served ... except for those times when it’s not. Mind you, I’m not knocking the formula. There’s nothing like a predictable plot to make a gal from the Florida school system feel brainy. Of procedural crime dramas in general, I am a fan.
“Criminal Intent” stands out not because the writing is so much better – this isn’t “The Wire” we’re talking about. It’s D'Onofrio. A big-screen talent with a small-screen nose, this actor is superb in any role. (Seriously, have you seen “Thumbsucker”?)
The more ridiculous the plot, the greater joy D'Onofrio is to watch, unspooling what should’ve been laughable lines with emotion and physicality that doesn’t demand a leap of faith to believe. It’s most obvious, in the interrogation room, when D’Onofrio (as Goren) imposes his 6’ 4” frame on the suspect, who ultimately breaks down and confesses probably just so Goren will back the hell off.
Erbe, in the undervalued role as straight man, deserves her props. (Check her out opposite Kevin Bacon in “Stir of Echos.) The life was pretty much sucked out of her character as the show progressed, robbing her of sassy wisecracks and personality. Still, Erbe – both lovely and quite tiny compared to D’Onofrio – holds her own, and even without the snark, radiates New York City TV cop.
I urge you, in the coming decades of “Law & Order” marathons, to catch the more subtle scenes with Erbe when Goren and Eames make the rounds. The focus seems to be on Eames, firing away with the inquiries.
Goren, meanwhile, fumbles Columbo-syle in the background –- untangling wind chimes, or pawing through files –- freaking out the subject and knocking him or her of his guard. Goren and Eames are cops performing the perfect grift. D’Onofrio and Erbe are sharing a flawless scene.
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