If you can get past contrived Southern accents as thick as okra gumbo, "Web of Deceit," tonight's movie on the USA cable network, is a moderately engaging murder mystery. (It premieres at 9 on the basic cable service.)
Sharp viewers will peg the killer early, but the clues which allow the characters to do so build slowly. And actress Linda Purl (whom viewers may remember as Andy Griffith's assistant in the first season of "Matlock") is pretty believable as an attorney who may not want to face the conclusions of her own investigation.
The setting is Atlanta, where a brutal rape/murder has taken place on the grounds of a swanky home. Charged with the crime is a young man (Paul DeSouza) who was tuning the wealthy owner's Maserati the night of the killing and, in fact, had brought with him the murder victim, a young girl he had picked up in a road house. Hired to defend him is San Francisco attorney Purl, returning to her home town after a number of years.
"You know where the bodies are buried," says the defendant's mother to explain the long-distance engagement.
The attorney soon finds that her adversary in court, an assistant district attorney with aspirations to the top job (James Read), is a former sweetheart. Both are now divorced and, as they begin to engage in plea bargaining over what seems an airtight case, they also rekindle old sparks.
Purl rejects an early offer that her client accept a manslaughter plea and, with the help of a private investigator, begins to probe two key points of his defense. The young auto mechanic, though stoned on cocaine, remembers and can partially identify three cars in the home's driveway and also claims he saw a sexy woman in the yard. Yet the owner claims he was home alone.
Purl is the best thing about "Web of Deceit," conveying a character of some tenacity who has the sense she is stuck in one of those nightmares where a horrible fate awaits at the end of a tunnel, yet cannot stop her feet from plodding onward.
LOOKING FOR WONDER -- Media Monitor has been a steady fan of "WonderWorks," the PBS family drama series which unfortunately has not always found a regular showplace on Maryland Public Television. Tonight, however, the seventh season begins a new format (at 8, channels 22 and 67), with monthly two-hour films rather than weekly hour-long dramas.
The opener is "Looking for Miracles," a very nice coming-of-age drama that was a Disney Channel cable movie last year and derives from a story by A.E. Hotchner. Greg Spottiswoode is the teen who, against his wishes, must go to summer camp with his younger brother. Set against the backdrop of the Depression, the film teaches a little and entertains a lot.