The first motion picture to be based on an original story by novelist John Grisham -- rather than on an adaptation of one of his best-selling novels -- this mixture of Southern gothic drama and legal thriller is a bit more erotic and less plot-driven than the author's usual work. It's probably the guiding hand of director Robert Altman, so accustomed to sprawling films sagging with dozens of ever-multiplying characters, but The Gingerbread Man feels unfocused, meandering, and just plain slow. The film is not without its strengths: Altman makes far better use of the weather as a visual device to reflect his characters' state of mind than he later would in Dr. T and the Women (2000). Then there's the excellent supporting cast, including Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, and particularly Daryl Hannah, who adds a mousy, smart, and stable character to her repertoire with pleasantly surprising skill. It's a shame that lead Kenneth Branagh flounders in an underdeveloped part that hints too much at an inner life never fully revealed. This is partly on purpose, to keep the plot's third-act revelations a secret, but the unintended result is a sense of mirthless boredom and disinterest. One would assume that a complex web of kidnapping, adultery, tragedy, crime, murder, and sex would make for an absorbing film, but The Gingerbread Man chugs along with grinding tediousness to a climax that probably will be viewed as delightfully morbid by the few patient enough to wait for it.