'Silent Motive' is indeed a mystery

MEDIA MONITOR

October 16, 1991|By Steve McKerrow

Almost at the end of "Silent Motive," a new movie premiering on cable tonight, actress Patricia Wettig says, "Oh God, I missed it completely."

Alas, so does this latest world premiere film from the Lifetime cable network (at 9 p.m. on the basic cable channel).

The miss is a shame, for there is actually an interesting notion behind the mystery movie, which co-stars and was co-produced by Mike Farrell.

Without giving too much away, the premise stems from the frequent use on TV and in the movies of true-life crime stories: What if the success of such a film, portraying people still alive, triggered a new chain of related crimes?

At the outset of "Silent Motive," we see a cold-blooded murder that soon is revealed to be a scene from a movie of that title. And within the first half-hour, another murder occurs that seems to be a copycat of another killing in another movie.

The trouble is, the drama-become-life angle is buried in this movie, and viewers are never given enough evidence to begin to solve the mystery, a serious genre fault.

Wettig (cancer-stricken Nancy on "thirtysomething") plays the factual film's Oscar-winning screenwriter, Laura Bardell. She is not a particularly nice person, aggressive and self-centered, and as a result she has some enemies.

Even Farrell, who plays a detective with whom she once had an affair, accuses Laura of using people for her own ends.

Phone calls and letters begin arriving with threats, seemingly stemming from another writer's claim that the screenwriter plagiarized his script. Soon murders are committed, all with modus operandi that have been seen in Laura's movies.

But none of this hangs together very well. Character identities are confusing and there is a ridiculously gratuitous love scene (not terribly graphic, but to the inevitable wailing saxophone) that goes on, and on and on.

Wettig tries, but her character is too dislikable to care much about. Farrell (who was B.J. in "M*A*S*H") is just wooden. Worse, pop star Rick Springfield does a hammy turn as one possible suspect, and Ed Asner pops up as Laura's agent and gives the impression he devoted maybe a whole afternoon to the role.

*

IN BOND WE TRUST -- How many readers out there of a certain age remember the plastic derby hats you could buy in the mid-'60s, meant to be flung like a Frisbee but with deadly force?

They never worked, but certainly marked the popularity of "Goldfinger," the third film in the James Bond series in which Agent 007 (Sean Connery) battles derby hurling Oddjob (Harold Sakata) in the vault of Fort Knox.

It's on the TBS basic cable service at 8:05 tonight.

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