One measure of a good mystery thriller is how many red herrings are swimming around in the plot to temporarily confuse things. And by that standard, "The Lookalike," the latest world premiere movie on the USA Network of basic cable, is ultimately pretty engaging.
But some viewers may be so puzzled by the movie's double identity they will not stick around for a genuinely surprising ending. Starring Melissa Gilbert and Diane Ladd, "The Lookalike" (at 9 tonight, with repeats Dec. 16 and 22) swings between the supernatural thriller genre and the plain old Earthbound mystery, with a touch of the "Three Faces of Eve" psychological case study.
It wouldn't be fair to reveal which identity finally emerges, except say it is one that few viewers will be able to predict. Here is the basic setup:
Gilbert plays Gina, a young, single designer who is in therapy trying to deal with the loss of her daughter in a car crash some years earlier. Things are stabilizing as she takes a good job doing department store windows and is attracted to her boss (Thaao Penghlis).
One day, however, she sees a young girl in the mall who looks just like her dead child. When she sees the girl a second time and follows her home, she gets a second shock. Further, her boss poses the old legend of the doppelganger, which says each of us has a psychic double in the world and if we ever meet, one of us will cease to exist.
Ladd, as Gina's mother, is concerned about the sudden swing toward irrationality and begs her therapist (Frances Lee McCain) for medication to calm the young woman. Gina's former husband (played by Gilbert's real-life hubby, Bo Brinkman) tells her she must accept the finality of their child's death.
Before long, attentive viewers will have a lot of questions: Could somebody have made a mistake about her daughter still being alive? Is she going bonkers? Or is someone trying to make her think she's crazy (as in "Gaslight" and any number of imitators)? Could there really be such a thing as a doppelganger?
Some of this is presented in hokey fashion, especially the supernatural theorizing. But the eventual climax is truly a complex surprise. (And it is nice to see that Glibert has grown up quite nicely from her days as Laura on "Little House on the Prairie.")
TRADITION! -- While not strictly a Hanukkah show, the theme of Fiddler on the Roof" does relate to the difficulties of maintaining this holiday's modest traditions in the face of America's gargantuan Christmas observance.
Thus on this second night of the eight-day Festival of Lights the 1971 movie seems an appropriate bit of programming, airing at 8 p.m. on WNUV-Channel 54.