Jeb Ward (Hackman) is a lawyer specialising in helping individuals sue big corporations. When he takes on a case against a car company at short notice, he finds that opposing counsel is his estranged daughter (Mastrantonio)
The apparently endless run of unbelievable courtroom dramas continues here with Class Action, in which the personal conflict adding spice to an already quite interesting case is that the lawyer for the plaintiff happens also to be the father of the lawyer for the defence.
Luckily, dad is none other than Gene Hackman, here giving yet another of his huggy bear performances as an old-time radical lawyer who specialises in helping ordinary stiffs sue bastard corporations, while rebellious offspring (Mastrantonio) has turned her back on "all that 60s crap" and models the sort of stylish suit that marks her as an up-and-coming legal vulture, intent on protecting helpless multi-nationals from bullying cripples.
Class Action, which becomes unbearable whenever the lead characters talk about their relationship, has precisely two and a half things going for it, the half being Mastrantonio's Italian grin. First off, it's based on a fascinating and frightening real-life case in which a major automobile company did the sums and worked out they'd lose less money if they let people die or be crippled for life than if they recalled one of their models which had quite clearly turned into a human deathtrap. And second - as with so many recent movies from Mississippi Burning through The Package to Narrow Margin - Gene Hackman can redeem the shoddiest characterisation through sheer presence and his obvious enjoyment of a nicely-turned line of dialogue.
Whenever Hackman is in court playing to the jury, Class Action is a pleasure; otherwise, thanks to plodder Michael Apted and a sludgy script, it's a sub-television soap that ultimately tends to get in the way of its interesting source material.